The Rocket City is well on its way to becoming the largest city, as Huntsville’s population is set to surpass Birmingham’s within the next three years, if not faster. Meanwhile, Alabama’s other large cities have each seen their populations shrink.
Population estimates released last month by the U.S. Census Bureau show Huntsville has added thousands of people a year since 2010, leaping from a population of 180,000 in 2010 to over 200,000 in 2019. That 20,000 person increase is the largest of any city in the state over that time period.
Huntsville started last decade as the fourth largest city in Alabama. It passed Mobile in 2015 and last year it officially passed Montgomery, the state capital, to become the second-largest city in the state.
Birmingham, meanwhile, has lost population in seven of the last nine years. And the pace is picking up.
The Magic City lost more than 1,000 people in 2018 and 2019. Since 2010, it’s lost nearly 3,000 total people, a decrease of 1.3 percent. Its total population in 2019 was 209,400, according to the Census. Birmingham has fewer people now than it’s had at any time in the last 100 years.
Montgomery and Mobile, the third and fourth most populous cities in Alabama, respectively, have lost population at an even faster rate.
Montgomery had more than 205,000 people in 2010. The city has seen its population fall by more than 7,000, a four percent decrease since 2010. Montgomery’s estimated population in 2019 was 198,500.
Mobile hasn’t faired much better. The Port City’s population fell from 195,000 in 2010 to 188,000 in 2019, a decrease of more than 6,000 people, or around 3 percent.
Both Montgomery and Mobile are among the fastest shrinking U.S. cities with at least 50,000 people – Montgomery is 30th and Mobile 35th on that list.
Huntsville’s breakneck growth and Birmingham’s steady population loss means Huntsville is likely to pass Birmingham within three years. Depending on what happens in each city, it could be sooner. Birmingham has seen its population loss accelerate over the last few years, while Huntsville’s growth has been fairly steady. If Birmingham shrinks at the same rate it has over the last five years, Huntsville will be larger in 2022. If Birmingham’s population loss slows back down toward where it’s been for most of the last decade, it will still get passed by Huntsville, but just a year later, in 2023.
But Birmingham’s metro area, which includes several fast-growing cities like Chelsea, Hoover and others, is still by far the largest metro area in Alabama. The Birmingham metro consists of seven counties and is home to more than 1 million people. Despite Birmingham city’s population loss, the metro area has grown steadily since 2010, especially in the suburbs of Shelby County. Huntsville’s metro area, meanwhile, consists of just two counties, and is home to just over 471,000 people, the second largest metro area in the state.