Population decline in St. Louis to have minimal effects on WU grads

| News Editor

A recent release of 2010 census data showed that the population in St. Louis City had decreased by about 8 percent over the past decade.

The figures indicate a total population of 319,294 people, a near 30,000 person decrease from the 2000 census and a reduction by more than half since the 1950s.

While this decline may cause some turbulence in the already struggling local economy, the demographic change is unlikely to significantly affect most Washington University graduates, most of whom seek jobs outside of the St. Louis region.

“The job market for Washington University graduates is usually national,” economics professor Steven Fazzari said. “It’s pretty unusual to find a student who actually gets a job here in St. Louis. Even if you were looking at jobs locally, the declines in the city are being somewhat offset by growth in the county.”

In fact, despite the decline in the population of St. Louis City, the total population of Missouri has risen by 7 percent from the last census, up 27 percent in places like St. Charles County. St. Louis County, which does not include St. Louis City, lost about 2 percent of its population.

Even in these instances, the growth rate has slowed from the 2000 census, which showed a state population increase of 13 percent from 1990. This trend reflects the current economic downturn, which has been felt across the nation.

According to Fazzari, the dip in population will likely have some consequences for the local economy in the longer term, which could eventually affect the University.

“There’s maybe longer term issues about quality of life,” he said. “If you have a declining core of a major metropolitan area, that might make the area less attractive over the long term, so that might make it more difficult to attract business here, and ultimately might not be such a good thing for the University.”

Overall, he said, population decline is not necessarily a negative thing for all areas, especially in younger parts of town such as the new urban lofts in the Washington Avenue area.

Jim Beirne, Director of External Relations at the Career Center, agreed that he does not consider the census statistics to be meaningfully correlated to student job placement rates in recent years.

“The statistics talk about the city of St. Louis, which is a portion of the St. Louis region, and we still see strong recruiters based in the city itself,” Beirne said. “They are still coming and recruiting, in some cases more than they ever have. What I do see is ongoing growth around the city of St. Louis. Corporations, organizations and nonprofits are trying to hire more and more of our students.”

Beirne attributes this lack of correlation, in part, to the fact that most Washington University graduates seek employment outside of the St. Louis area.

Many students do, however, choose to stay in St. Louis for summer internships.

Still, Beirne does not detect any hurdles in securing employment, especially, he said, as Washington University’s name recognition and the positive reputation of its students grow.

“More companies are saying they didn’t realize [the University] was so good, and as companies, organizations and nonprofits get to know us better, we’re seeing more opportunities developing for our students,” he said.

Although Washington University students are unlikely to feel the economic effects of population decline, the state will see political effects.

As a consequence of slow growth in Missouri, the state has lost one congressional seat, which means that the congressional districts will be redrawn before the 2012 elections.

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