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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Metro counties Alabama’s ‘growth engines’comment (0)

May 17, 2012

By Jim Williams


Alabama remains one of the slowest-growing states in the Southeast. Since the 2010 Census, the state’s population has increased at only half the national rate.  

The areas that are growing are concentrated in counties surrounding the larger cities, which also tend to have better-educated populations and higher incomes than the state as a whole. The state’s economic development is tied to these areas’ expansion. 

The Census Bureau divides counties into three groups for statistical purposes. “Metropolitan” counties are linked economically to a large city (50,000 or more). “Micropolitan” counties also have economic ties, but to a smaller city. The remaining counties, mostly rural, have no such connections.

Alabama has 11 metropolitan areas covering 27 counties. Another county is part of the Columbus, Ga., metro area. These 28 counties contain 71 percent of the state’s population, are home to about 80 percent of its college graduates and account for 75 percent of all personal income in the state.  They have had a net gain of 23,000 residents since the 2010 Census, while the rest of the state has had no net population growth.     

Metro areas are named after their central city or cities. Alabama’s 11 are (from largest to the smallest): Birmingham-Hoover, Huntsville, Mobile, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, Decatur, Dothan, Florence, Auburn-Opelika, Anniston-Oxford and Gadsden.

In these 28 metro counties, personal income per capita in 2010 averaged almost $34,500. An estimated 83 percent of the adult population has at least a high school diploma and 25 percent a college degree or better. Since 2010, these areas have added 53 residents for every 10,000 in the Census count.

By way of contrast: in the state’s 24 rural counties, personal income per capita in 2010 averaged about $27,400; only 73 percent of the adult population has at least a high school diploma and 12 percent a college degree or better. Since 2010, these counties actually have lost about 68 persons for every 10,000 in the Census count.

The state’s 15 micropolitan counties fall between the metro and rural areas on all these measures, suggesting that the numbers are related. They point to the importance of removing barriers to growth in the state’s urban areas and increasing educational attainment. 

EDITOR’S NOTE — Jim Williams is executive director for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

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