There were few surprises in the final count of the U.S. Census Bureau released Wednesday; the report showed, as expected, that the Sun Belt states of the South and West have gained population over the last decade at the expense of the Northeast and Midwest. Eight states, led by California and Texas, gained enough population to warrant additional congressional seats, while 13 states, all but one in the Snow Belt, lost seats. Maryland, whose population increased 12.2 percent to 4.8 million in the decade, will retain its eight congressional seats.
Yet the broad outlines of yesterday's figures mask another, more troubling shift -- the movement of people and political clout away from the nation's cities. Baltimore has joined New York, Chicago and a dozen other big cities in demanding a recount following preliminary Census figures released earlier this year that showed an unexpectedly large decline in urban populations. The losses translate into reduced congressional representation, less clout in state legislatures and, perhaps most significant, less federal and state aid.
Baltimore city, for example, could lose at least one senator and several delegates in the General Assembly after redistricting in 1992 -- depending on how the new district lines are drawn. We add that qualification because it's still unclear whether the new districts will be drawn to overlap the boundaries between the city and surrounding counties, in which case some lawmakers would find themselves with two different constituencies within the same district. Conceivably, the city could even gain seats under such an arrangement, but it's a safe bet that won't happen -- if only because suburban legislators can be counted upon to resist the idea of having to represent city interests.
So the Census Bureau's final count sends yet another message that the city's viability in the coming years will rest not on its own political strength but on the willingness of surrounding jurisdictions to think in regional rather than parochial terms.