Population in city is up, not down
By Jake Wagman
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
ST. LOUIS — Score another victory for Mayor Francis Slay in the city's annual contest with the U.S. Census Bureau.
On Thursday, Slay announced that for the fourth year in a row, the bureau backed down from its original estimate, instead favoring his assessment that the city's population is still growing.
According to a revised tally, the city's official population estimate is 353,837, a slight bump from the year before.
St. Louis is the first city in the country to win a challenge for the most recent figures. The result was that the city's population gained 1,265 people — rather than losing about 5,400.
"It's an affirmation of the progress we've been making — of the momentum we are building," Slay said.
While Slay conceded the increase is modest — less than half of a percent — it is, he said, a significant step for a city that lost close to a half million people in the decades after World War II.
"It is not dramatic," Slay said of the population increase. "But it is steady and consistent."
Slay attributed the rise to the popularity of places such as the downtown loft district, but also the resurgence of older neighborhoods such as Benton Park West and Old North St. Louis.
Even so, Slay said the city must continue to move forward — including solving problems with the schools — in order to keep growing.
"We are nowhere close to where we can be," he said.
An increasing number of cities have challenged the yearly population estimates released by the Census Bureau, which are less accurate than the bureau's decennial effort. In its every-10-year count, the bureau has workers in the field gathering data.
Last year, cities from Goshen, Utah, to New York City joined St. Louis in getting population estimates for 2005 overturned.
While a higher population is a political boon for Slay — whose last re-election campaign focused on the progress of the city — it is also a morale builder and financial boost for the city. Some federal aid is based on the estimates, according to census officials.
For Slay, announcing revised census numbers has become something of a City Hall tradition.
The estimate is contested because the census counters treat the city — which does not belong to a county — as a "county equivalent," instead of an urban area.
Using the county method, census counters estimate population with birth and death records, as well as tax forms.
City officials have successfully argued that residential housing data and building permits should be added to the equation.
Even so, the Census Bureau appears rooted in using its calculations — which could mean another City Hall showdown in 2008.
"To change our estimate methods is a big step," said census demographer Greg Harper. "All I can say is that it's something that's reviewed every year."