U.S. Census Bureau data shows decline in county’s population

Published 2:59 pm Friday, April 8, 2016

Butler County is shrinking.

Not literally, of course, but the latest population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, tracking the number of people who called Butler County home in 2015, shows the population continues to fall.

The county had an estimated population of 20,154 people in 2015 down from 20,276 in 2014 and 20,946 in 2010, according to new U.S. Census Bureau numbers.

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Butler County Commission Chairman Joey Peavy attributes the population decline, at least in part, to the county’s loss of businesses tied to the textile industry.

“While this has certainly hurt us as a community, it has also motivated the county commission and city leaders to be more aggressive in their pursuit of economic development,” Peavy said. “One of the industries we have been fortunate enough to secure in our area is the Tier I suppliers associated with Hyundai. This has helped replace some of the jobs lost with the textile industry. Our community leaders are constantly working to try and bring more and better jobs to our county. Even though our community, like most rural areas, continues to follow the trend of decreasing population, we continue to pursue industries to provide jobs for our community. It is just a very slow and complicated process.””

The problems exacerbated by a declining population are nothing to be taken lightly.

A shrinking income tax base means fewer dollars available to local municipalities for the provision of basic services. Local business and industry are left with a smaller pool of potential employees.

In recent years, the Butler County Commission for Economic Development and the Butler County School System have partnered to held improve workforce development and spur economic development.

Otis Grayson works with students at area schools to help them prepare to enter the workforce.

“We’d talked to employers in the area and heard that they weren’t able to find the quality of employees they need,” Grayson said. “We’re trying to address that. We’re starting in the eighth and ninth grade teaching our students the soft skills — how to dress, how to speak properly, punctuality — that they need to be a quality employee. At the same time, we’re trying to make sure they have the skills that industries in our area are looking for whether it’s on the academic side or the technical side. … We need to invite future business in Butler County by developing a skilled workforce that has solid skills and training, so we can not only sustain the workforce here, but then invite more workforce to come in.”

School districts also see fewer students as a result of the declining population numbers, which means less funding.

“The impact of the loss of students equates to a loss of funding, both state and federal, as well as losses of teacher units as the Alabama Department of Education calculates those units using student enrollment,” said Butler County Schools Superintendent Amy Bryan.

According to figures provided by the Butler County School System, the district lost 110 students from the 2014-15 school year to the 2015-16 school year.

Since the 2009-10 school year, the system has lost 375 students, and since the 1998-99 school year, it has lost 759 students.

While the system’s per pupil expenditure varies from year to year, each of those students leaving represents over $7,000 in combined state and federal revenue loss, according to Bryan.

Butler County is not alone in seeing it’s population numbers fall. Most Alabama counties are shrinking, especially in rural areas and across the Black Belt.

Thirty-six of 67 Alabama counties lost people from July 2014 to July 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers.

Montgomery, the fourth largest county in the state, has lost about 3,000 residents since 2010. Dallas County lost the most people from 2014 to 2015, dropping by 500 residents.