Census figures show southwest population growth

Missouri’s population grew by the greatest amounts in southwest Missouri and the outer suburbs of St. Louis during the past decade while continuing to decline in the city’s urban core, according to new U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday.

The new 2010 census data will be used to redraw Missouri’s congressional and state legislative districts. Missouri is losing one of its nine seats in Congress because its population — which now stands just shy of 6 million residents — grew at a slower pace than the rest of the nation during the past decade.

The data show that southwest Missouri’s 7th Congressional District grew by about 100,000 people since the 2000 census, paced by a roughly 43 percent growth rate in Christian County — which amounts to an additional 23,000 people — and a 14 percent growth rate in Greene County that equated to a population growth of nearly 35,000. Greene County is the home of Springfield, and Christian County is located just south of Greene County between Branson and Springfield.

Real estate agents in southwestern Missouri said Thursday that nearby colleges and universities and medical facilities have helped fuel steady growth in the region.

Tammie Tucker, who has been a real estate agent in Springfield since 1989, said the region’s growth has helped smaller communities with economic development. Ten years ago, the 2000 census showed that Christian County also was the fastest-growing in the state.

“We’re real excited, and we’re also seeing growth all through southwestern Missouri,” said Tucker, who works for a family-owned real estate company in Springfield.

The 2010 census data was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press in advance of their formal release by the Census Bureau. The figures also show that the state’s racial minority population grew. Missouri’s Hispanic population increased by 79 percent since 2000, compared to a growth rate of a little over 4 percent for white residents.

However, Hispanics comprise just 3.5 percent of Missouri’s population, compared with 83 percent for whites. Blacks remain Missouri’s largest racial minority, at 11.6 percent of the total population.

The population grew by about 85,000 in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes part of the outer St. Louis suburbs. The district covers part of St. Charles County, which grew by about 76,600 people — or 27 percent. Nearby Lincoln County grew by more than 13,600 people, a growth rate of 35 percent.

The 1st Congressional District in St. Louis declined by almost 35,000 people, according to the new census figures. The city of St. Louis had a population of 319,294 in 2010, according to the data, down about 8 percent from census figures released 10 years ago.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the decline was disappointing after officials had anticipated stemming more than 50 years of population loss. Slay said the St. Louis region must reconsider how it operates.

“We are such a fragmented region. We’re competing with each other, competing among ourselves on everything from sales tax to jobs to people,“ Slay said. ”We need to start thinking more aggressively about our future and rethinking how we do everything.”

On the flip side, Kansas City grew by about 4 percent, or 18,000 people, and had a population of almost 460,000 people in 2010.

The population data allows Missouri lawmakers to begin work on developing the state’s new congressional districts. The Republican-led Legislature will be responsible for developing the new districts, and leaders have said every congressional district likely will need to be adjusted.

“Everyone understands the status quo isn’t going to be the status quo,” said Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, who is the chairman of the House’s redistricting committee.

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