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Last updated 2:26AM ET
March 7, 2021
Number of Alabama Newcomers Doubles
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Alabama has one of the country's highest percentages of state-born residents, but the number of those who were born outside of the state has nearly doubled in recent decades, according to census figures.

There were nearly 3.3 million people living in the state in 1960 and 85 percent of them were Alabama natives. That was second only to Mississippi, which had 87 percent and Georgia was third with 81 percent.

Census estimates for 2006 show Alabama with a state-born population of 71 percent.

Former Auburn University Montgomery demographer Don Bogie says the population change is good news for Alabama.

"We're not as bland any more," he told The Birmingham News in a story for Thursday editions.

Nationwide, the percentage of native-born Americans in a population of more than 300 million is about 88 percent.

That is lower than the 95 percent native-born figure in 1960, when the nation had about 180 million residents.

Most Southern states have seen their locally born numbers drop, partly because of economic opportunities that have drawn workers from elsewhere, as Alabama's auto manufacturing plants have done. Other factors include a general population movement toward the nation's Sunbelt; the arrival of Hispanics; and greater mobility in general.

"In 1960, there just weren't very many interstate highways," said Annette Watters, co-director of the Alabama State Data Center in Tuscaloosa. "... Now, surface travel is not difficult, it's customary, and it just has led people to the notion that 'I don't have to stay here.'

"The phenomenon of leaving home is very pronounced now," she said.

Bogie has seen the phenomenon in Elmore County, where he and his wife have lived since 1971.

"You notice it casually as you go through the grocery store," said Bogie, who lives in Wetumpka. "You hear more accents that are alien, you know, and you see more people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds and ... when you look at the commerce here in Elmore County."

One example is the restaurants and other businesses that serve a Hispanic clientele. In 1990, Elmore's population totaled nearly 50,000 and was 78 percent Alabama-born.

The latest census estimates put its population at nearly 76,000 and its state-born percentage at 73.

Despite its growth, the outsider influx into Alabama has not been as pronounced as it has been in other Southern states.

Florida, which few call a Southern state because of its huge number of Northern retirees and Spanish-speakers, had a native-born population of 38 percent in 1960.

That figure is 34 percent today. But Georgia, largely because of the growth of Atlanta, has a state-born population of only 55 percent. North Carolina, in which 84 percent of the residents were locally born in 1960, is now at 60 percent.

Over the same period, South Carolina has gone from 83 percent state-born to 61 percent; Tennessee, from 78 percent to 63; and Mississippi, from 87 to 73. Louisiana, pummeled by economic difficulties and more recently, by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, has barely moved, from 82 percent to 80.

Like other Southern states, Alabama's growth in outsiders has generally tended to occur in counties where amenities and opportunities are present.

Booming Baldwin County, attracting retirees and other residents keen on coastal living, has seen its native-born population drop from 58 percent to 52 percent since 2000.

Lee, adjacent to Georgia and home to Auburn University, has gone from 58 to 54 percent. Madison, home to aerospace- and defense-related industries, has gone from 56 to 53 percent.

Rural, economically challenged counties such as Wilcox, Choctaw, Greene, Hale, Lowndes and Perry in the Black Belt, are among those with the highest numbers of rooted residents, along with Clay, Lawrence and Crenshaw counties.

Longtime University of Alabama political science professor William Stewart says the more outsiders Alabama receives, the better it will be.

"I think it's a wholesome development ... because I think we have been too insulated and I think we have been too isolated from what's going on in the rest of the country and the rest of the world," Stewart said.

"I think we need to have more diversity and more interests represented in our politics than we have in the past."


Information from: The Birmingham News

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