The District's population still is shrinking sharply, according to Census Bureau figures released yesterday that show the city lost 11,000 people in the past year and now has 543,000 residents, the lowest count since the Depression.

Although the District's population loss was slightly smaller than in the previous year -- 11,000 compared with 13,000 -- demographers said the slower rate of decline was not enough to signal a turnaround. The city's population would have fallen even more, but the loss was offset by an increase in immigration.

Maryland and Virginia continued to gain population from July 1995 to July 1996. The growth was slower than in the early 1990s, and immigration played an increasing role in it, census figures show.

The District's population has been dwindling during the last four decades, for many of the same reasons as in other big cities: a deteriorating urban economy and the allure of suburbs that offer more new jobs, lower crime rates and better schools. The District's population has not been lower since 1933, when the census count was 529,000 residents.

Since the 606,900 figure reported in the 1990 Census, the District has lost more than 10 percent of its population. The loss for the first six years of the 1990s was greater than for the entire decade of the 1980s. The past year's loss was smaller than 1995's but larger than for any other year this decade.

"I'd say the District hasn't turned it around yet, that's for sure," said demographer George Grier, of the Greater Washington Research Center, who studies the District's population trends.

Grier's analysis indicates that flight from the District has included black and white households, especially middle-class families fleeing the city's troubled schools and deteriorating services. The residents replacing them are likely to be single people moving from other parts of the country or immigrant families, many of them poor.

"I can't say that we have hit the bottom, but I hope so," Joyce A. Ladner, a member of the city's 18-month-old financial control board, said of the latest census figures. "The first stage for me would be to stop the hemorrhaging. Those figures would give me some guarded optimism."

Ladner said control board members are "acutely aware" that the District's population won't stabilize until people believe that schools, public safety and public services are improving. The board recently fired the school superintendent, named a new chief executive and promised to put more police officers on the streets. Ladner said people tell her that "movement has begun in a positive direction."

One of the last city residents to decamp this year was Laura Fabijanic, 26. The moving company came to her Dupont Circle apartment yesterday, and she'll spend New Year's Eve with her fiance at their new home in St. Louis.

They are leaving reluctantly. He has a better job as a chef at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel there. She has enrolled in an arts program at Washington University, studying textiles and fashion.

"We feel that D.C. is getting better," she said. "It's kind of a bummer. We're moving out just as things are picking up."

But others who left are happy with their decisions.

Betsy Broder and her family moved to Bethesda last year from the District's Colonial Village neighborhood in upper Northwest because she and her husband had no confidence in D.C. schools and could not afford private school tuition for their two daughters.

Broder, 41, a Federal Trade Commission lawyer, said the family misses some aspects of District life, especially being near the Metro and living in a racially diverse neighborhood. But "the issue was entirely one of education for our children," she said.

Dianna Johnston and her partner of 20 years liked their house in the Woodridge neighborhood of Northeast Washington, but it wasn't close to the ethnic stores and restaurants they enjoy. The two women also were concerned about encroaching crime.

So in 1993, they moved to the edge of Alexandria, near Baileys Crossroads. They got more space for the money and have a shorter commute to their jobs as government lawyers in the District. And they are five minutes from a Latino market, Pakistani butchers, an Asian grocery and a Cuban restaurant.

"It's got everything," said Johnston, 51. "We moved to the suburbs and got all the urban conveniences."

Government jobs probably will ensure that the District's economy won't fall apart as much as those of other big cities, according to Stephen Fuller, a regional economist at George Mason University. But job losses in the District and the desire to live closer to suburban job centers are factors pushing people out, he said.

The District has lost 45,000 jobs in the last four years, while suburban Virginia added 120,000 and Maryland 54,000, Fuller said.

But he is optimistic, predicting that the District's economy will stabilize in the next year and show some slow growth, assuming the national economic picture does not decline.

"All {the District} needs is some leadership and some good news," he said. "The District is in a position to quickly turn around."

Even though more people are leaving, others have chosen to settle in the city. Donald Rickford, the new chief financial officer at the University of the District of Columbia, moved to the Hawthorne neighborhood in upper Northwest when he arrived from Connecticut this year. Even if he hadn't owned a house there, he still would have wanted to live in the city, he said.

"I still think the District is very much worth living in, even with the problems," Rickford said.

Census projections also indicate a turnaround in the city's future. After 2000, increases in immigration will cause the District's population to grow again, according to Census Bureau officials.

The census estimates are not as exact as the door-to-door survey conducted every 10 years, because the estimates are based on public records such as income tax returns, birth and death certificates and immigration files. Demographers say the estimates probably undercount the District's population, because immigrants and low-income households often are missed.

For other jurisdictions, the census figures show that Maryland's population of 5.07 million is up 6 percent from 1990 and that Virginia's population, 6.67 million, has increased 8 percent since 1990. Both states now rank in the nation's top 15 in terms of immigration growth.

In the rest of the country, states with the fastest population growth in the last year were in the West and South. Nevada had the most growth -- 4.5 percent -- fueled by births, people moving from other states and immigration. Other big gainers were Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Georgia and Idaho.

California regained some momentum in the last year, growing faster than the nation as a whole for the first time in four years. California continues to lose population to other states, but that is more than offset by immigration from other countries, census figures show.

Three states lost population in the last year -- New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- because more people moved out of state than moved in from other states, and immigration did not make up for that decline. CAPTION: A Shrinking City . . .

Those in the crowd at President Harry S. Truman's 1949 inaugural parade were in the District in its most populous decade. The population peaked at 900,000 in 1943; in the last 40 years, it has declined almost steadily to its current level of 543,000. D.C. RESIDENTS, 1930-96 1930: 488,000 1943: 900,000 1996: 543,000 SOURCE: Census Bureau CAPTION: WHERE THE GROWTH IS

The trend continues of rapid population growth in the West and South and slower growth, or decline, in the Midwest and Northeast. The District has lost 64,000 residents in the last six years. Population growth, April 1990 -- July 1996 West

10.9 South

8.9 Midwest

4.0 Northeast

1.5 U.S. overall

6.7 D.C.

-10.5 Md.

6.1 Va.

7.9 SOURCE: Census Bureau CAPTION: Laura Fabijanic is a D.C. resident who doesn't want to leave, but she and her fiance are moving to St. Louis, where he has a better job. Analysts say many who leave the District are fleeing troubled schools and deteriorating services.