National Population Trends

A graphic from "Population Trends in Missouri and Its Regions" shows areas shaded with red in Missouri and the surrounding states had no natural growth or people moving into the regions.

(The Center Square) – New analysis of U.S. Census data shows Missouri and other Midwest states will face similar economic challenges caused by flat or declining population trends.

In May, the U.S. Census bureau released its 2020 population estimates. The information shows changes occurring during the past year and decade.

Estimates show Missouri grew by 0.2% between 2019 and 2020, adding more than 11,000 net new residents. The growth rate was half of the national range of 0.4%, but consistent with neighboring states and throughout the Midwest.

“This isn’t a Missouri-specific problem and that’s an important caveat,” said Mark White, an associate extension professor and a policy research fellow at the University of Missouri’s Truman School of Public Affairs. “It’s not like Missouri is unique. The challenges we’re facing are no different than other parts of the Midwest, the Great Plains or other places where areas are not growing as fast as other places.”

White is author of the report, “Population Trends in Missouri and Its Regions.” The document also highlights uneven growth as another challenge for the state:

• Springfield (0.8%) and Columbia (0.7%) are the fastest growing metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs).

• The Kansas City (Missouri-Kansas MSA) increased 0.5% while St. Louis (Missouri-Illinois MSA) was flat.

• Two small MSAs lost population: Jefferson City declined 0.5% and St. Joseph decreased 0.6%.

• More than half of Missouri’s 114 counties – most in the north and southeast – lost population.

“For places that are growing, it’s great,” White said. “You get new customers, new consumers, new taxpayers and more workers. So growth begets growth.

“For places losing population, it’s a bit more of a challenge. What ends up happening is you will have fewer people to work. You will have a diminished tax base and then your schools might end up consolidating. These trajectories can mean a lot for different places around the state.”

Metropolitan areas declining in population will adversely affect Missouri’s economy, according to the report. The St. Louis and Kansas City regions account for 55% of the state’s population and approximately 65% of its economy. The state won’t be able to keep pace with the growth of the nation if its largest metropolitan areas are declining in population.

“As those metropolitan areas go, so goes the state,” White said.

White noted there are virtuous and vicious cycles to population trends and they’re difficult to change. Some citizens who are older or retired often relocate from urban or suburban areas to communities around lakes and recreation centers. The counties grow, but the growth often doesn’t contribute to the workforce and can put pressure on other community resources, such as health care.

“The goal is to try to retain the people you have and that means connecting people to economic opportunities,” White said. “Investing in schools and broadband access is key. Those will allow people to access remote learning, or do business from anywhere. Investing and supporting entrepreneurs can potentially create jobs that give people opportunities. It will entice them to stay. It’s sort of a, ‘first, do no harm,’ type of approach.”

In addition to broadband, the availability and quality of housing can be a key factor in attracting people to communities, according to the report. A 2015 study by the USDA Economic Research Service found family motivates former residents to return to communities, but they still require adequate employment opportunities. The study also stated other factors – shorter commutes, a lower cost of living, outdoor amenities, and a community feel – attracted former residents. Discouraging factors included financial and career sacrifices, too much familiarity, a lack of cultural amenities and school quality.

Staff Reporter

Joe Mueller covers Missouri for The Center Square. After seven years of reporting for daily newspapers in Illinois and Missouri, he spent the next 30 years in public relations serving non-profit organizations and as a strategic communications consultant.