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'My goodness': Metro East's big population loss surprises some

The eight Illinois counties that are part of the St. Louis metro shed nearly 21,000 residents during the past decade
Credit: SLBJ
A view of Downtown East St. Louis. The Metro East lost significant population from 2010 to 2020, according to new U.S. Census Bureau figures.

ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. — Many expected the city of St. Louis to lose residents in the U.S. Census Bureau's newest count, released Thursday, as it has for decades. Indeed, it shed 5.5% of residents from 2010 to 2020, ending at 301,000.

More surprising to some were significant losses all across the Metro East. The eight Illinois counties that are part of the St. Louis metro, in fact, shed nearly 21,000 residents during the past decade, according to the data, even more than the city's loss of nearly 18,000.

"That is significant," said Madison County Board Chair Kurt Prenzler. "My goodness."

The numbers are important for the St. Louis area, which, with a growth rate of about 1% over the decade, was surpassed by Baltimore as the 20th largest U.S. metro. That's because two of St. Louis' largest counties are in Illinois, with Madison and St. Clair County counting more than a half-million residents total. The region has some 2.8 million people.

"I didn't anticipate that, for that to stand out," Todd Swanstrom, a professor of public policy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said of the Illinois figures. Illinois lost 18,124 residents over the decade, or a decline of 0.1%. It was one of only three states to see a loss; West Virginia and Mississippi were the other two. Missouri's population increased a modest 2.8%.

Swanstrom noted that St. Clair and Madison counties appear to have "stagnated or worse." St. Clair, he said, includes East St. Louis, long in population free fall. It also includes Belleville.

"In some ways, the situation in East St. Louis is even more difficult than in the city of St. Louis because the city, for all its problems and massive population loss, has a lot of amenities, and the central corridor is booming there," Swanstrom said.

St. Clair County shed 4.7% of its population, or more than 12,600 people.

Mark Kern, the county's chairman, said because of the pandemic, he didn't see "a concerted effort to go out and engage the public" for this census. 

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