Census shows decrease

Published 9:20 pm Monday, July 6, 2009

The news about population shifts in Dallas County runs along the silver lining in the dark cloud saying.

In the 2000 census, Selma reported a population of 20,512. On July 1, the estimated population for 2007-08 was 18,847 residents, or about an 8.2 percent drop.

That might be frightening, unless one examines the rest of the data. The population losses for Selma have slowed somewhat.

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Selma lost 238 residents in 2002-03; 240 in 2003-04 and 329 in 2004-05. Then the population loss began to dwindle.

In 2005-06, the city lost 47 residents and in 2006-07 Selma lost 40 residents. The most recent data shows Selma losing 64 residents.

But consider, says Carolyn Trent, a socioecononic analyst at the Center for Business and Economic Research at The University of Alabama, in 2001 Alabama was mired in a recession with myriad job losses.

“A lot of areas trended down,” Trent said.

People follow jobs. If a state or area is in a recession, many times it will see population pick up and leave. An area is indicative of its county.

Census data shows that in 2001 Dallas County lost 504 residents. In 2002 the county lost 1,086 residents.

But in 2005 and 2006, as the state began to enjoy good economic times again, the population bleeding stopped.

“Although Dallas County has seen out-migration each year,” said Trent, “the numbers have been much smaller over the last three years — an encouraging sign that recent job opportunities are helping keep residents from moving out of the county.”

Selma — and to an extent Valley Grande — mirror the county numbers. They have to, Trent explained.

Most of the estimates of population for counties are based on IRS data. If someone moves out of the county and files taxes, they are marked as out-migrated. The Census Bureau also uses Medicare records for the older population and measures births against deaths.

Trent said Dallas County saw more births than deaths from April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2009 for a net population growth from natural increase of 1,161. But that natural increase didn’t overcome the net migration of 4,544.

Areas inside counties are estimated by the number of building permits in their boundaries and housing units. Trent stresses estimates.

To Selma City Planning and Development Director Charlotte Griffeth, the numbers mean the city is further away from the magic 50,000 metropolitan mark and closer to a rural micropolitan.

In times of stimulus money, that’s a disadvantage. The rules for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act were written for the larger cities of 50,000 population and more.

But the numbers do not hurt the city when it comes to competitive grants, she said, which is different from the stimulus money received by the states.

Yet, as Griffeth points out, the smaller an area is in numbers, the greater the impact felt when jobs are lost or people quit buying and start saving money. As people move out, less is paid in sales taxes and property taxes, she said.

This particular year may bring some interesting numbers up when the Census Bureau reports again because of the nationwide recession. Griffeth believes the rate of outmigration from Selma might slow down because people are waiting to see what the economy will do.

Trent says Griffeth’s theory is a valid one.

“Probably more people are just staying put and are waiting it out,” Trent said.