Demographics

An interactive statistical look at current and past population trends. 
Huntsville is a growing city. It is the largest municipality in North Alabama, and is the primary city of its Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes Madison and Limestone Counties. The bulk of the city is in Madison County, with the remainder in Limestone County.  The population of Huntsville as of July 2014 was approximately 188,226, an increase of 4.5 percent since the 2010 Census and 19 percent since the turn of the millennium.

Cumulative Population Growth (1970-2015)

Since 2010, Huntsville has accounted for 60 percent of Madison County’s population growth.

Annual Population Growth, 1970-2015

Birmingham, Here We Come!

The City of Huntsville has been the fastest growing major city in Alabama over the past fifteen years. The city is projected to reach 200,000 residents by 2020 and become the largest city in Alabama by the year 2022. Note: These numbers are for cities proper only, not metropolitan areas; Birmingham-Hoover will remain as the state’s largest metropolitan area for the foreseeable future.

Huntsville’s population is spreading out

Between one and two percent of the City’s growth has been due to annexations. In the early part of the 21st Century, greenfields– previously undeveloped areas– within city limits (particularly the East and Southwest subareas) dominated residential development. Older, more established areas– such as East Central and West Central– have slowly increased in population since 2010. Source: US Census Bureau
Map of Subareas
1990

2000

2010

2014

Population and Density of Huntsville, 1920-2014

As Huntsville’s population and land area have increased, the density (population per square mile) of the city has decreased.

Population_Density Graph

(Source: US Census Bureau, City of Huntsville Planning Estimates)

America’s “Biggest” Cities, 2014

Huntsville reached a “peak density” of 3,287 ppsm (people per square mile) in 1950. As Huntsville expanded, the population density dropped, and the city’s density is now 879 ppsm as of 2014—a slight increase from 2010’s 874 ppsm. This makes Huntsville the third most sprawling, non-metro government city in the country, behind Norman, Oklahoma and Anchorage, Alaska.
A key challenge to having such a low-density city is maintaining the infrastructure required for such a broad area.

Housing

Housing growth in the City of Huntsville has correlated with population increases. The number of housing units in the City at the end of 2015 was 92,664, an increase of 8.8 percent from 2010. Huntsville’s housing makes up 48.8 percent of the total housing stock in the MSA.

Total Housing Units in Huntsville, 1990-2015

Housing growth has accelerated in the last ten years, largely fueled by apartment construction.

Single family housing makes up the majority of the housing stock in Huntsville.  Multi-family construction, mostly apartments, has been on the rise in recent years, as a tight lending market has increased demand for rental housing. This trend is expected to continue. Hotspots for apartment construction in Huntsville are west of Research Park Blvd. as well as Downtown, an area that by 2020 will have more than 700 market-rate apartments– up from only a handful in 2010.

Housing Unit Change, 2010-2015

The map below shows the total number of housing units built within Huntsville city limits (by census tract) between 2010 and 2015. Looking for single- and multi-family data? Try our Map App! Map data source: City of Huntsville.

Age

America as a whole is aging, and Huntsville is no exception. As life expectancy improves, the percentage of people over the age of 65 will continue to increase.  Life expectancy in the U.S. will increase to 82.6 by 2050, an increase of over six years from the early 1990s.  By 2030, all baby boomers will be 65 or older.  This trend will impact the “greying” of Huntsville.   By 2050, almost 25,000 people in Huntsville will be over the age of 75.

The Greying of America, 2000-2030

In 2000, the percent of total population over 65 exceeded 15 percent in three states. By 2030, just two will be under 15 percent. (Data source: US Census Bureau; Map source: Whit Blanton)
In 2000, the percent of total population over 65 exceeded 15 percent in three states. By 2030, just two will be under 15 percent. (Data source: US Census Bureau; Map source: Whit Blanton)

The Greying of Huntsville, 2000-2030

The aging of the city will be most apparent in the Southeast subarea, where it is estimated that by 2030, nearly 1 in 3 people will be 65 and over.


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Age Distribution, 2010 -2015

Boomers and Millennials are the two largest age groups in the United States. Huntsville is experiencing modest growth in both age groups– especially people between the ages of 25 and 34. During the same period, however, a significant number of people in their teens and their forties left the City—evidence of a loss of families.Age Group Distribution 2010-2015

 

Median Age by Subarea, 2000-2010

The median age dropped in three subareas—West Central, Southwest, and North—while rising elsewhere. The Southeast and East Central subareas have the highest median age; these areas have a large number of parents with grown children (“empty nesters”). Neighborhoods with a lower median age—like those in the Northwest, West Central, Southwest and North subareas, tend to be areas with fewer owner-occupied housing units and within close proximity to universities and employment centers.

Diversity

Baby boomers will play an important role in shaping another important aspect of the landscape of Huntsville.  In the U.S., an overwhelming majority of baby boomers are “non-Hispanic White,” and as boomers grow older, they’re projected to decline due to mortality. They will continue to contribute to decreases in the percentage of the population that is non-Hispanic White.  This pattern, coupled with increases in immigration and births to minority populations, will produce an increasingly diverse population. Racial and ethnic minorities accounted for 67 percent of Huntsville’s population growth between 2000 and 2010, compared with 83 percent nationwide.

Hispanic Population Growth, 1990-2010

Huntsville’s Hispanic population more than tripled between 2000 and 2010. Depending on state and federal immigration laws, this number could triple again by 2020. While other parts of the US will continue to see significant increases, it is unlikely that the city of Huntsville’s Hispanic population will grow at the same pace.
 Note: Hispanics can be of any race according to the Census Bureau.

Diversity Index, 2012

 The geographic data firm ESRI has created a Diversity Index, which gauges an area’s mix of races and ethnicities. The index ranges from 0 to 100, with 100 being the most diverse. In Huntsville, the most diverse area according to the Index is West-Central, due to its near-equal numbers of White, Black, and Hispanic residents. Majority Black and White areas in North and East Huntsville, respectively, had lower numbers on the Index. Map data sources: ESRI, US Census Bureau.


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Families

Our households are changing.  The US Census Bureau reported that thirty-six percent of its households were living alone in 2012.  The number of one-person households will equal family households by 2025, and by 2050 a majority of households will be “solo”-person households.  Huntsville’s solo households have been steadily climbing; from 20.3 percent in 1980 to 34.7 percent in 2010. Because of the “greying” population, this trend is expected to continue.
Seniors living alone are not the only factors impacting households.  The dominant “nuclear family” model is gradually being supplemented by multiple catalysts– for one, many Millennials are postponing marriage and families to focus on work, school, and paying down debt.  Huntsville seems to be following the same trends as the rest of the country when it comes to marriage.  In 2010, the Census Bureau reported a higher percentage of the population as having never been married– thirty-two percent compared to slightly over twenty-five percent in 1980.
Huntsville’s young adult population increased between 2000 and 2010 by 27 percent and has continued to increase since 2010. Household and Family sizes dipped between 1980 and 2000, but have remained stable since.

Average Family and Household Size in Huntsville, 1980-2014

Family Size Comparison

Educational Attainment

Huntsville is well-educated. With a standard for educational attainment well above the national average, Huntsville should continue to attract industries that put a premium on a skilled workforce.  The development, recruitment and retention of that workforce are on-going concerns, however.  Competition for skilled workers, particularly in tech, defense, energy, and aerospace industries is fierce, and there is ample evidence that many other cities are marketing themselves aggressively, particularly to the next generation of employees and entrepreneurs.  Ensuring not only employment but also a high quality of life– particularly in terms of a rich and vibrant local culture– will be imperative to maintaining and growing our labor base.

Pomp and Circumstance

87 percent of Huntsville residents had at least a high school diploma in 2010, up from 82 percent in 1990.

Percent College Graduates, 2010


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Income

Huntsville income levels have shown every indication of a successful community. Like education levels, income levels can offer insight into the depth of the labor pool, the stability of the population, and how the local economy is responding to the educational climate. The per-capita, median household and average household incomes of Huntsville’s population are higher than Alabama and the U.S. Forty-nine percent of households earned $50,000 or more and twenty-three percent earned $100,000 or more.

Poverty

While household incomes have increased, the percentage of individuals whose earnings were below the poverty level increased between 2000 and 2014. (Source: US Census Bureau, ESRI)

 

Takeaways and Next Steps

At the end of the day, a city is a reflection of its population.  As demographics change, a city should change the way it develops and functions in order to stay competitive and enjoy a high quality of life.  To that end, there are several overarching themes etched within the demographic analysis:
We are aging.  As life expectancy improves, the percentage of Huntsville residents over the age of 65 will continue to increase.  It is important to understand how the demand of an aging population will present economic, social and health-market challenges as attempts are made to meet the needs of the “greying” population. Check out our Aging in Place event, which was held in February 2015.
Our households are changing.  The dominant “nuclear family” model is gradually being supplemented by a number of different units.  The percentage of households with only one member has been steadily on the rise for well over a decade.  Given that this phenomenon has multiple catalysts – deceased spouses among an aging community, lifestyle choices by Millennials, declining marriage rates, among others – this is a trend that is likely to continue.  At the same time, multigenerational households are increasing, and diversifying in their make-up.  Adult children moving back in with their parents; grandparents moving back in with their children and grandchildren; unmarried couples with children; single parents and grandparents; blended families and extended families – all of these formats are becoming more common, and have already begun to exert an influence on markets for housing, and policies for development.
We are well-educated.  With a standard for educational attainment well above the national average, Huntsville will continue to attract industries that put a premium on a skilled workforce.  The development, recruitment and retention of that workforce are on-going concerns, however.  Competition for skilled workers, especially in tech, defense, energy, and aerospace industries, is fierce. There is ample evidence that many other cities are marketing themselves aggressively, particularly to the next generation of employees and entrepreneurs.  Ensuring not only employment but also a high quality of life – particularly in terms of a rich and vibrant local culture – will be imperative to maintaining and growing our labor base. 
The demographics that drove the current urban form are changing.  At both the national and local levels, there are two demographic “spikes” that are driving changes in development and growth in cities across the country.  The aforementioned aging Boomers and the even more numerous Millennials are making market-based choices that are favoring redevelopment over new development; and variety over homogeneity. Huntsville, which experienced most of its growth during the era of automobile-based expansion and land-use separation, faces a distinct challenge in changing urban form to meet that shifting demand.

Next: Land Use