2% drop in Chambers County population since last census

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, May 3, 2023

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Chambers County’s population has seen a decline of nearly 2% over the past two years since the last census count, according to updated estimate counts by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The data is calculated using the base population, the net migration and the total natural change. U.S. Census Bureau data for county births and deaths are collected by public records. 

According to the estimates, the population has decreased by 686 residents, which is 1.97%, from April 2020 to July 2021. 

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On April 1, 2020, the population estimate base was 34,774 residents. By July 1, 2020, the census population estimate had declined to 34,645. In July 2021, the population had decreased to 34,446. By July 2022, the population had dropped to 34,088. 

Chambers County has had the eighth largest population decrease in that timeframe in Alabama, according to this data. 

Population numbers determine the amount of funding the county receives, so any long-term positive or net gains could be significant. The number of congressional representatives is also impacted by the county’s reported population.

“Depending on representation, there can be shifts in your congressional numbers if you do not have a sufficient population,” said Chambers County Attorney Skip McCoy. “So yes, population is huge from a monetary standpoint and from a representative standpoint, and that’s the reason we have such a driven effort for the 2020 census to get out and to really try to promote giving an accurate number.”

So why does Chambers County’s population appear to be decreasing? For one, the net migration has seen a drop. In the past three years, 195 more people have moved out of the county than into it, according to the data. 

McCoy said Troup County and Lee County are neighboring counties to which people may have migrated while others may have left for college. But McCoy said that this migration is cyclical, and in time those residents may return. 

“With the evolution of life, you’re always going to have some migration, especially with young people. But I think the key here is that we’ve got to have the retention,” McCoy said. “In order to have the retention, we’ve got to have the job opportunities.”

McCoy said Valley has seen development of more affordable housing that will encourage people to stay in the city rather than commute. The Lanett airport recently opened after years of planning. McCoy said the development along with other projects on the horizon will create more economic opportunities.

“We’re on the cusp of some great things. I think the school consolidation is going to end up producing a fine institution for learning that’s going to afford people the opportunity to go to school here in Chambers County at a brand new high school with an excellent education,” McCoy said. “And a lot of people that may have migrated to Troup County or to northern Lee County will end up coming back to Chambers County.”

However, the bigger change in the county population comes from the total natural change, the difference in births and deaths. The total natural change was -511, meaning more people are dying than being born in Chambers County. 

In 2015, the EAMC-Lanier closed the doors to its birthing unit due to a lack of demand in birth rates. Before closing, the unit had fewer than 25 births per month. Without a labor and delivery unit at the hospital, most mothers travel to Lee County, Randolph County or Troup County for their deliveries. 

McCoy suggested the data in the census may not be able to take into account the unique geographical circumstances of the county. Chambers County sits on the state line between Alabama and Georgia. He also said some households that are closer to the Lee County area may be counted as Chambers County because they have Valley zip codes.

The county attorney said the ten-year census is more accurate than the estimates used from natural change and net migration numbers.

“We’re in a very unique location, and not all areas are as unique as we are here in East Alabama … The only true measure, if there is a true measure, is the census,” McCoy said.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the number of births per county is based on the county and state residence of the mother. As long as the mother lists her correct residence on the birth certificate, the location of the birth doesn’t affect the county birth data.

Despite the decrease in population, McCoy feels the county is in a good position for continued growth over the next seven years. 

“I really feel like everything in Chambers County is on the upswing. I believe that we have a lot of things that are going on right now that are going to promote a 2030 census that’s going to show an increase in our population even more so than we saw between 2018 and 2020.”

This comes after an apparent increase from 2010 to 2020. McCoy said the county saw a population jump of approximately 500 in the 2020 census count. He predicts that the population may even double over the next seven years. 

“I predict that between 2020 and 2030, we’ll have double that,” McCoy said.