Kingfisher Media Regional News

Alabama is growing, but the Black Belt is shrinking.

That’s among the findings of a recently released analysis of the 2020 census from The University of Alabama’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).  

Data from the last census show that Alabama’s overall population grew by 5.1% to just over 5 million people from 2010 to 2020. That rate of growth is slower than from 2000 to 2010, when the state grew by 7.5%.

Twenty-seven counties, or 40% of the state’s 67 counties, experienced growth over the last decade. Most of those counties are along the I-65 or I-20 corridors or are home to large academic institutions, the CBER report notes.

In contrast, several counties and municipalities experienced substantial population decline. Nine counties — Dallas, Perry, Sumter, Greene, Washington, Clarke, Monroe, Coosa and Conecuh — had a population decline of 10% percent or more.

Most of the counties that experienced population decline are in the Black Belt region of the state, or border counties in the Black Belt, the report stated.

Perry County lost almost one in five residents from 2010 to 2020. That’s the largest percentage drop of population in the state.

“Perry County lost almost one in five (19.6%) of its residents between 2010 and 2020, while Greene and Monroe counties have lost more than 14% of their residents in the last decade,” the report states. Perry County has a population of 8,511, according to the census.

Dallas County has a population of 38,462 in the 2020 census, down 5,358 residents or a decrease of 12.2% from the 2010 census. Dallas County experienced the sixth-highest percentage of population decrease in the state.

While other counties experienced a higher percent loss of population, no county came close to Dallas County’s loss of more than 5,000 residents. The next highest loss of population was Monroe County, which has almost 3,300 fewer residents than it did in 2010.

Population losses were seen in the city of Selma as well.

The five municipalities with the largest population decline, that had a population of more than 5,000 residents in the 2010 census, were Atmore (17.7%), which has seen a significant decline in its state prison population, in Escambia County; Prichard (14.7%) in Mobile County; Selma (13.4%) in Dallas County; Roanoke (12.6%) in Randolph County; and Fairfield (10%), which has recently filed for bankruptcy, in Jefferson County.

Selma has an official population of 17,971, a decrease of 2,785 from the 2010 census. That’s a 13.4% drop.

Wilcox County lost more than 9% of its population from 2010 to 2020. Wilcox County has a population of 10,600, down 1,070 or 9.2% from the 2010 census.

Bibb County has a population of 22,293 down 622 or 2.7% from the 2010 census. Bibb County is part of the Birmingham-Hoover cohort of Jefferson, Blount, St. Clair, Shelby and Chilton counties, an area that CBER says is expected to see growth thanks to several developments.

“Bibb County continues to see job growth at its 564-acre industrial park near Woodstock,” the report states. “There are currently $614 million of planned capital projects at the industrial park that will create 1,300 new jobs. Already, several of the companies at the industrial park are suppliers for the Mercedes plant in nearby Tuscaloosa County; and in 2022, production will be added to assemble batteries for Mercedes’ new electric vehicles.”

Smuckers has announced that will invest $1.1 billion to manufacture and distribute their popular Uncrustable sandwiches in a facility under construction in nearby McCalla. The facility will bring 750 new jobs to the area when it opens in 2025, according to the report.

The report notes that population depends on births and deaths, which the report calls “natural” changes, and outmigration. Neither of the three have been favorable in the Black Belt. Birth rates are down (decreased 3.9% from 2010- 2020 statewide), death rates are up due to COVID-19 (35.2% in that period) and young people are leaving.

“Montgomery and Mobile counties had the highest net out-migrations in the state, followed by Dallas, Monroe and Clarke, all of which had a negative natural increase and negative net migration,” the report states.

“Younger populations are leaving the state, likely for better job opportunities,” the report states. “These components of change explain why Alabama’s population is growing, albeit relatively slowly, at a lower rate than the national average (7.4%) and slower than several states in the South. In comparison, Texas and Florida grew by more than 14% from 2010 to 2020.”

CBER notes that the “implications of COVID-19 and other excess deaths will have reverberations in Alabama population trajectory for the next decade,” particularly in the Black Belt.

“The state had almost 11,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019; and by the middle of August of 2021, Alabama had more deaths from COVID-19 than in all of 2020,” the report states. “The impact of these excess deaths is expected to be more acute on the population dynamics of counties in the Black Belt, where there is already negative net migration and low births. Specifically, year-to-year deaths from 2019 to 2020 increased by 76.1 percent in Greene County, 40.7 percent in Chambers County, and 37.1 percent in Dallas County. Therefore, many counties will continue on a trajectory of population decline, and the decline will be exacerbated by excess deaths from COVID-19.”

Baldwin County is the fastest-growing county in Alabama and the 39th fastest-growing county in the nation. Pike Road is the state’s fastest-growing municipality, according to the census.

Selma-based Kingfisher Media Regional News provides content for the Selma Sun, the Centreville Press, the Marion Times-Standard and the Wilcox Progressive Era.