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City’s Press Release Contains Misleading Statement on Population

April 21, 2007 Events/Meetings, Planning & Design 11 Comments

On Wednesday the Mayor’s office issued a press release announcing a press conference.  I attended on Thursday AM and wrote a post about facts & figures.  Here is the press release:

Mayor’s Office     Wed, Apr 18, 2007
St. Louis City Population Grows for Fourth Consecutive Year Official Census Bureau Estimate at 353,837
Mayor Francis G. Slay will join Rollin Stanley, City Planner & Urban Designer on Thursday, April 19, 2007, at 10:30 a.m. to announce the results of the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimate of population.

After five decades of non-stop decline, the population in the City has increased by nearly 18,000 in the last four years.

The announcement will be in the Mayor’s office, Room 200.

WHO:    Mayor Francis G. Slay Rollin Stanley, City Planner & Urban Designer

WHAT:    City Population Grows for Fourth Consecutive Year

WHERE:    St. Louis City Hall Room 200

WHEN:    Thursday, April 19, 2007 10:30 a.m.

# # #

But one sentence above gives a totally false impression of the true picture:

After five decades of non-stop decline, the population in the City has increased by nearly 18,000 in the last four years.

Wrong!  The population has not increased by 18,000. The misleading information above is from the city’s official press release but the mayor’s campaign site, mayorslay.com, got it right:

The U.S. Census Bureau, which annually estimates cities’ populations, has agreed that our population for July, 2006, was 353,837, an increase from the previous July. This marks the fourth straight year our population has gone up.

It has not been a dramatic jump, about 6,000 people since the last Census, but it has been a steady one.

Yes, the actual rise in population since the 2000 Census has been 5,648, less than a third of what the press release from the mayor’s office is reporting.

In the Mayor’s announcement on Thursday he actually repeated the 18,000 figure.  Mayor Slay said:

“Compared to the 2002 estimate the city’s population has grown by almost 18,000 people.”

Again, this is misleading at best.  So where’d they get this “almost 18,000” figure?  Well, they are comparing the Census’ original 2002 estimate (336,253) and saying compared to the newly accepted figure the difference is almost 18,000 higher (17,584).   This is playing with numbers and twisting the truth around.

For this to be true, we must accept that between the 2000 Census figure of 348,189 and 2002 that we lost 11,936 and then gained back 11,783 in a single year (2002 to 2003) to reach the revised census figure for 2003 of 348,039.  I think we can all reason that we did not gain nearly 12,000 residents in the 12 months between July 1, 2002 and July 1, 2003.

So the Mayor’s staff is comparing original low estimates with higher revised estimates to create the illusion of “almost 18,000” in new residents.  Luckily, I didn’t find that any of the news agencies went with this misleading figure.  I expect better of our city’s higest leader and his staff.


Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. john says:

    Still arguing over a few thousand residents and press releases? Let’s talk about job creation as that is a better measure of economic health. According to MO LAUS: Average number employed in the city was 155,674 in 2000 and 147,163 in early 2007. Is the city keeping up with state and national employment trends?

    Of course we can debate forever on usings stats and we get your points about creative accounting…IMO your beating up on a dead issue. Let’s debate the issues that impact us in our daily lives like the PD headlines on the Tamm bridge. The local media says that the construction may disturb the zoo residents…you worried? Have you try to interview them? Heavens forbid that the real story of 64 will ever be covered. Ooops, I almost got runover by one of those recently made legal 97-foot-long semis barreling down our coveted central corridor!

    [UrbanReviewSTL — As long as the mayor’s office is going to continue twisting the truth around on simple numbers such as this we are not going to get any serious discussion from them on other issues — at least not discussion I can trust.  If meaningless numbers are distorted what about others such as the so-called “need” for a new billion dollar bridge across the river.  Questioning misleading statements from elected officials is valid until they discontinue the practice.]

  2. publiceye says:

    “mayor’s office is going to continue twisting the truth”

    If they were actually “twisting the truth,” why do you suppose the press release on mayorslay.com and the news advisory from City Hall were different?


    [UrbanReviewSTL — My guess is lack of coordination among staff members.  Campaign staff gets it right but city-paid staff gets it wrong. Sometimes it is the other way around.  Someone searching the city’s official press releases is going to get the wrong message until it is corrected.  The public shouldn’t have to visit a campaign site to get up to date and accurate information on the city’s news.]

  3. Maybe this is very dumb to ask, but how is this twisting around numbers? Census Data, though supposed to be the most accurate, differs significantly from U.S. Census Bureau projections. Projecting (which is not the same as estimating) is based on growth/decline trends and is subject to very deliberate power analysis as well as regression models. So yes, if the 1 set of projections were inaccurate compared to another company’s projection (which let me tell you firsthand that companies that are hired to project have a tough tough job) then you don’t like take the mean. You do however go over the programming utilized in the projections.

    For example: one company provided census information for 17 specific zip codes (well actually I have the whole state but I pulled these 17 inner city zips) and gave us approx 90k as the population. A different company for this same zips gave us 81k. Turns out the issue was related to the complications of using zip codes (which is not the most accurate way to access population because census tracts can be in 2 different zips for instance and where do you place those people? So census tracts are the best to use IMHO).

    Anyways, give the guy a break. It’s not like he said 100k all of sudden appeared. 18k is quite a few but I would hazard an opinion that it is not statistically significant in its current context of cumulative population.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Here is the deal, they claim the census is way off in their estimates so they challenge the figures.  The Census says “OK” and agrees to change the figures.  Then the city takes one of the wrong/low estimates and attempts to claim we grew from that low number.  Pure BS!]

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Unfortunately, you can use statistics to “prove” pretty much anything you want. I’m not losing any sleep over any politically-motivated claims – just “show me the money” – more jobs and significant increases in tax revenues. We don’t need more poor people and minimum-wage jobs. We need to grow the middle class and the jobs that support their lifestyles.

  5. Rob says:

    FYI these are all estimates, not projections. Projections are for the future. The census bureau estimates intercensal figures for counties with this:

    P1 = P0 + B – D + NDM + NIM + NMM


    P1 = population at the end of the period

    P0 = population at the beginning of the period

    B = births during the period

    D = deaths during the period

    NDM = net domestic migration during the period

    NIM = net international migration during the period

    NMM = net military movement during the period

    Data comes from the National Center for Health Statistics, INS, and the military but the tricky one and the one we are concerned with here is “net domestic migration during the period” and it is based on Social Security Admin data, 1040 filings, and most likely any available information from the American Community Survey. I am not exactly sure how power or regression analysis would be used here. It all gets much more complicated when estimating pop by race, sex, etc. so maybe it would fit in there?

    Moving numbers from one geography into another is an entirely different issue because we aren’t dealing with growth or decline. The discrepancy you found between one set of ZIP populations vs another is probably due to the fact that ZIP codes change very frequently. Also, they are not an actual “geography” in the sense that they represent routes and not areas. Also, when allocating data from an actual census geography like tracts or block groups, projection issues with your data can have a pretty profound effect on the numbers.

    None of this really has anything to do with Steve’s point, which is that the mayor’s office suggested that the city grew by 18k and that is completely ridiculous and you don’t need to have spent months playing with the census to know that.

  6. Rob says:

    Just to clarify, the beginning of the period is 2000 and the end is 2006 — estimates aren’t based on last years estimates.

  7. Tim says:

    Maybe it’s time to face facts…….


  8. Adam says:

    small cities are great but spreading a once-large city’s population over a much greater area is wasteful. returning unused infrastructure to the earth hardly makes up for the inefficient large-scale development we see in the exurbs, not to mention the increased resource consumption due to transportation and maintenance. besides it will be decades before the “reclaimed” land is useful for anything other than park space. i don’t see this as an equal alternative to urban revitalization. seems more like self-indulgent excess.

  9. Jim Zavist says:

    The CITY of St. Louis only has direct control over its own destiny. The state is not sympathetic and we’re sure not going to be telling places like O’Fallon (MO or IL) or St. Charles County what to do anytime soon. I don’t like sprawl, and I voted with my feet – I live in the city. (Other people have different opinions, and, as Americans, are free to support sprawl, much as we dislike it.) The best way to “combat” sprawl is not through mandates, it’s through creating better, urban options. New Town is “hot”. There’s no reason why our many “old” towns can’t be “hot” again, as well . . .

    As Tim’s link astutely points out, it’s time to face reality. We’re never going to have 800,000+ residents inside the current city limits again. And facing reality means getting beyond buying into the concept that “size matters” in every issue. We don’t need the biggest convention or shopping center in the region and we don’t need multiple quasi-professional sports arenas. But we can have a sustainable economy, livable neighborhoods and great parks. It’s going to take changing perspectives and expectations, but my guess is that most residents are and will be much more supportive than most politicians expect.

  10. publiceye says:

    “The CITY of St. Louis only has direct control over its own destiny. The state is not sympathetic . . .”

    That is not exactly true. Federal and state policies — block grant programs, mandates, aid formulas, tax credit programs, funding for transportation — have direct influences over the City’s destiny.

    And state government has, by and large, been pretty helpful to the City.

  11. Jim Zavist says:

    Yes, but it’s up to city officials to figure out to spend all the multitude of funds from various sources wisely. Sure, many grants come with strings attached – this is government, after all. But it rarely works the other way – by accepting funds, we can’t tell another jurisdiction what to do – we can only do that if we’re providing the funds (the golden rule – he who has the gold rules).

    And if the state were more sympathetic, they’d return control of the Police department to the city, spend more money on maintaining existing highway infrastructure (instead of adding capacity in sprawling suburbs), make it easier to revisit the city-county divide, etc., etc.

    My point was that we can DREAM about limiting or reversing sprawl, combining the city and the county and/or creating a truly functional public transit system, but the REALITY, at least for the forseeable future, is that we’re constrained by the existing city limits, in more ways than one. We can dream of adding 200,000 to the city’s population, but the reality is likely to be closer to 20,000, if that, in a good decade. Read the article Tim links to – it rings true about many of the issues St. Louis faces. It’s all about looking forward to a sustainable future, not backwards to our long-gone industrial past . . .


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