February 25, 2011 | AL | Original Article

2010 Census: Hispanic residents up 161% in Birmingham area

The Hispanic population in the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area grew by 161 percent in the past decade, a slightly larger increase than the state, according to U.S. Census figures released Thursday.

The number grew from 18,567 to 48,530.

Statewide, Alabama's Hispanic population increased 145 percent -- from 75,830 to 185,602.

Three of the metro area's seven counties -- Shelby, Chilton and St. Clair -- were among the top 20 counties in Alabama with the largest percentage gains in Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010.

Shelby experienced a nearly 300 percent increase, seeing its Hispanic population growing from 2,910 to 11,567. The Hispanic population in Chilton rose from 1,152 to 3,420 or 197 percent, while St. Clair saw a 150 percent increase from 686 to 1,716.

Jefferson County's Hispanic population increased 148 percent, rising from 10,284 to 25,488.

Chelsea, Calera, Midfield, Fultondale and Lipscomb had big jumps in Hispanic population among metro cities, with Chelsea's Hispanic population rising from 24 in 2000 to 325 in 2010, census data showed. Calera saw an 863 percent increase, climbing from 60 in 2000 to 578 in 2010.

Isabel Rubio, executive director of the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama, a Birmingham-based nonprofit group that promotes the social, civic and economic integration of Latinos in the state, said the numbers are still not 100 percent accurate, but are more reflective of the Hispanic population than in times past.

"They are getting close to giving a clearer picture of what our community looks like," she said.

Rubio said the U.S. Census had an initiative to reach Hispanics for the 2010 count. The initiatives included placing ads in Spanish-language newspapers, putting up bilingual posters in stores, and reaching people through their churches and language classes. Rubio said the Census also had enumerators in the HICA offices.

"They were really trying to reach the community," she said. "We can see this was somewhat successful in the increase."

Rubio said HICA believes the population increase in the community comes from births to Latino moms, not immigration.

Chelsea Mayor Earl Niven said the spike in that city's Hispanic population is just a sign that Chelsea is one of the state's fastest growing areas.

He said there were many Hispanic workers when home construction in Chelsea was going strong. "We have a diverse group of individuals living in Chelsea," Niven said.

"We are blessed to have a good variety of people. We have rich people and those struggling to make ends meet. We treat them all the same. We have a slogan in Chelsea, 'It's all about family.' That's the way we feel."

Niven said the city has not seen an increased demand on services. He said there are several churches that have free classes that teach English to Hispanic residents.

In Fultondale, where the Hispanic population jumped from 105 in 2000 to 909 in 2010, Mayor Jim Lowery said the Hispanic population is consistent with the overall growth in his community as well as north Jefferson County.

"It's not just Hispanics," he said. "It's everyone. White, blacks. There are a lot more people moving out here. It doesn't surprise me. I'm kind of proud to be mayor during this kind of change."

Rubio said each year, the number of families receiving assistance from HICA climbs. She said the organization, which operates offices in Homewood and Pelham, served close to 8,000 families in 2010.