Declining population equals decline in services

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Analysis of the latest U.S. Census figures show a population decline among many rural counties in Alabama.

The Public Research Council of Alabama released its compilation of data and stated that through either residents moving away or increasing death rates in the tri-county area, there are less residents calling Lowndes, Crenshaw, and Butler counties home. 

“According to the estimates, Lowndes, Perry, and Greene Counties are each now below 10,000 in population, with Greene County being the least populous at 7,422. Bullock, Coosa, and Wilcox County are close to 10,000. Nationally, about 1,000 of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. have 10,000 or fewer residents,” wrote Thomas Spencer, senior research associate with Public Research Council of Alabama.

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Specifically, Spencer noted that figures from 2021-2022 showed Butler County’s population declined by 205 residents. Lowndes County had 149 fewer citizens. Census figures show Crenshaw had 31 less residents during the nation’s last count. Conversely, one of the largest increases in population during the 2021- 2022 U.S. Census occurred in Baldwin County which grew by 7,074 people.

Alabama Arise is a statewide organization that describes itself as a group advancing public policies to improve the lives of Alabamians marginalized by poverty. 

For the group, census figures showing a decline in population among the state’s rural communities is more than just figures; it is an indication of tighter federal purse strings for essential services for some of the state’s poorest residents.

“Oftentimes the money goes where the people go,” said Jennifer Harris, health policy advocate with Alabama Arise. 

According to research, lower populated areas receive less funding for charitable medical care, federal assistance for housing and food. Harris points to research by the group Human Rights Watch which showed in post pandemic research that cervical cancer survival among black women in rural areas of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi was 60%. Nationally, cervical cancer has a 93% survival rate after five years, Harris said.

Annerieke Smaak Daniel, researcher with Human Rights Watch, stated that poor residents without assistance and access to local healthcare often go without preventative care.

“It’s hard for people living in cities to imagine just being seen by a gynecologist can be an insurmountable challenge for women in Alabama,” Daniel stated. “Fewer than half of the counties in Alabama, and only 4 of the 17 counties in the Black Belt, have a practicing gynecologist. Without access to public transportation, and having to travel long distances, women are sometimes forced to skip appointments because they can’t afford to get there.”

Daniel said some respondents discussed their dilemma with researchers.

“For some women we spoke to it meant tough decisions,” Daniel said, “like choosing between traveling to see a doctor and basic necessities, such as electricity or other medication.” Human Rights Watch describes its group as a worldwide advocacy group supporting peoples’ rights.

Harris agreed that losing funding because of declining population trickles down affecting many services including affordable housing, transportation, and access to a local physician. “How healthy you are and whether you live or die should not depend upon how close you live to a medical facility,” Harris said.

To review the latest Census data per county, visit www.census.gov.