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PARCA: Huntsville grows as Birmingham and Montgomery fall behind

Birmingham reclaims its spot from Montgomery as the second most populous city in the state of Alabama.

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A report from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, based on estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, reveals data that since the pandemic, Birmingham and Mobile have seen a consistent decrease in population while North Alabama cities like Athens and Huntsville have been consistently gaining in population.

As Huntsville becomes larger, cities like Madison and Decatur, the ninth and tenth most populated cities, respectively, also continue to grow at higher rates. Huntsville sits comfortably as the largest city in Alabama with almost 29,000 more residents than Birmingham. Huntsville has maintained a large margin of residents ahead of Birmingham since 2020. 

“In terms of metro area population, Birmingham is still more than twice as large, but growth there is occurring away from the central city,” according to report author Thomas Spencer. “Close-in suburbs Vestavia, Mountain Brook, and Homewood saw population declines, but farther from the city center, Shelby County cities like Chelsea, Pelham, and Calera saw growth.”

In Birmingham, the rate of decrease is slowing down since it’s 8,514 person loss between 2019 and 2020 to only 243 residents moving out of the city in 2023. Montgomery, which lost the most residents in 2023 with 1,657 people moving out of the city, has experienced a consistent reduction in population since the pandemic.

In 2023, Birmingham narrowly surpassed Montgomery to regain the title of the second most populous city in the state of Alabama, a title that the two have been passing between each other since 2020 after Birmingham’s sharp decline. 

This is a common theme in some larger cities in Alabama. Outside of Montgomery, cities like Prattville, Pike Road and Millbrook all saw increases in their population as people left Montgomery. 

Cities in Baldwin County like Fairhope, Foley and Daphne are also among those with the highest influx of residents in 2023. While neighboring Mobile County experiences some decrease in population, it appears that the growth in Baldwin County results from domestic in-migration. The growth of Foley alone between 2020-2023, a total of 4,125 residents, tops the decrease in Mobile in those years, a loss of 4,026 residents.

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Mary Claire is a reporting intern.

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