Census: Area population shrinking

Photo by Claudia Mack

Photo by Claudia Mack

ALBANY, Ga: Newly released census data shows that Dougherty County, much like the rest of Southwest Georgia, dropped in population over the last decade.

In a comparison of 2010 Census data released Thursday and 2000 Census data, Dougherty County's population dropped by an even 1,500 people.

Dougherty County's population according to the 2010 numbers is at 94,565, which was down from 96,065 in 2000 or 1.6 percent.

That trend mirrors much of the rural Southwestern portion of the state in which many counties showed a decrease in population.

Some of the exceptions were in neighboring Lee County, which grew more than 3,500 people to a population now of 28,298 or a stout 14 percent and in the city of Albany, where growth of six-tenths of one percent was reported.

Other areas of notable growth were in Calhoun, Colquitt and Grady counties, which each grew by between 5 and 15 percent, according to the census bureau.

The numbers back up what many elected officials in the area had feared, that with a decrease in population will come a more challenging time of having an adequate voice under the gold dome.

"There is nothing positive about rural lawmakers being outweighed by metro Atlanta lawmakers," Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff "Bodine" Sinyard said. "For years, the leaders of the rural areas of the state have been able to band together to ensure that legislation passed in Atlanta benefited all of the state, not just the metro area.

"Our state representatives are going to have to take the game to a new level. We're going to have to depend on metro lawmakers to understand our needs for our interests to be taken care," he said.

Sinyard, who also plays a vital role in a roundtable of Southwest Georgia local government leaders who are working on how to impliment a transportation bill that, if approved by the voters, will take a one-percent sales tax and use it to fund regional transportation projects, said that the decrease in population has both its positive and negative points.

Bracing for much more significant drops in population, Sinyard said he was surprised that Dougherty County's population had dropped by so little.

"Despite the decrease, we managed to stay relatively flat, which hopefully will mean we won't see any major impact to our quality of life and our ability to move forward," Sinyard said. "The last ten years have been rough for our region and hopefull we're in a position for positive things."

In Albany and Lee County, Hispanics had the single largest percentage of growth. In Albany, the Hispanic population grew by 68 percent and 60 percent in the county to 2,073 county-wide. In Lee County, the hispanic population topped 560, growing by 87 percent from 2000 levels.

The black populations of both areas also surged, according to the data.

In Albany, the black population grew by 11.2 percent to 55,456. County wide, the black population grew by 9.8 percent to 63,470. In Lee County, the growth of the black population was even more significant, jumping up 37.3 percent with 5,268 residents.

According to some, growth isn't necessarily a positive thing. While it does mean more money from the federal government thanks to population based government formulas and its obvious impact on representation, Southwest Georgians tend not to want to become a major metropolitan hub.

"Well, agriculture is our top economic industry followed by healthcare, manufacturing and the service industries. We're blessed with large tracts of farmland, timber and other areas where folks don't have to worry about the population density the people in metro Atlanta have to deal with," Sinyard said.

Not surprisingly, southwest Georgia's congressional district also shrank, going from 650,392 in 2000 to 631,973 in 2010 -- a decrease of more than 18,400.

That poses an interesting problem for the Georgia General Assembly when it comes time to redistrict the states political subdivisions. With the state's total population at 9.6 million and a requirement to add a 14th congressional district, each district will roughly have to be 691,000 people in size.

For the second district which is landlocked by Alabama to the west and Florida to the south, that could mean drawing the lines to include a densely populated northern Muscogee County or expanding the district further east beyond 1-75.

Lowndes County was perhaps the biggest growth center for Southwest or south central Georgia, with its population topping at 109,000 and surging ahead of Dougherty County.

In terms of demographics, whites still maintain the majority statewide in terms of population with 59.7 percent and managed to grow by 8.6 percent, but the state's black population vastly outpaced that number, growing by better than 25 percent up to 30.5 percent of the state's total population.

Still, the state's Hispanic population grew at the fastest clip, a whopping 96 percent, but hold only 8 percent of the total population.