City population fell 6.5 %,census finds,to 736,014

January 24, 1991|By James Bock

Baltimore's population dropped by 6.5 percent over the past decade to 736,014, the Census Bureau reported yesterday, setting the stage for redistricting battles in which the city is bound to lose more of its already waning political power.

The city lost about 50,000 residents during the 1980s, the second-largest decline in its history. But the rate of loss was only about half that of the 1970s.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said through a spokesman that he was "reasonably pleased" with the count. The city mounted an extensive campaign to promote census participation.

State Sen. John A. Pica Jr., D-Baltimore, chairman of the legislative Joint Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting, said: "It's better than I expected."

The count was about 8,000 less than the Maryland Office of Planning's 1990 estimate but nearly 16,000 more than the preliminary Census Bureau figure issued last summer. The city challenged that count, and the bureau recanvassed parts of Baltimore.

Mr. Schmoke thanked the Census Bureau for "giving serious consideration to our appeal," but reiterated his call for the census to be taken by "scientific sampling and estimation. It is really the closest we're going to come to a fair count," he said.

The population loss means that Baltimore stands to lose up to two senators and five or six delegates when the Maryland General Assembly is redistricted in 1992. The decline also will trigger reductions in federal aid that is allocated based on census data.

NB Mr. Pica said the count of 736,014 would theoretically entitle

the city to 7.3 legislative districts. The city now has nine of 47 state Senate seats.

The senator said the city delegation's goal was to retain eight senators. "You round up or down depending on whether you have the votes," he said.

Mr. Pica said he expected the General Assembly to hold a special session this fall to reapportion Maryland's eight congressional districts. Then, in the 1992 legislative session, it will consider Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan for redistricting the General Assembly.

The Census Bureau is not expected to release a breakdown of Maryland's 4.78 million population by race and political district until March. That data will provide the building blocks for redistricting.

Maryland grew by 13.4 percent, adding well over half a million residents in the decade. As predicted, Montgomery County easily displaced Baltimore as the state's largest jurisdiction as people flowed to the Washington suburbs. Montgomery grew by nearly a third to 757,027.

In the Baltimore region, Baltimore County grew sluggishly while Howard County led the state with a 58 percent population increase. Suburbanization also meant robust growth for Carroll and Harford counties.

Southern Maryland, once largely rural, was by far the state's fastest-growing region. Regionally, the Washington suburbs and the Upper Eastern Shore also grew at above-average rates. Besides the city, the only Maryland subdivisions to lose population were Allegany and Dorchester counties.

For the first time, the census counts came with a caveat: The "final" figures aren't necessarily final. They may be adjusted as late as July 15 to compensate for blacks and other minorities presumably missed in the count.

The bureau admits that it has missed many more blacks than whites in past censuses. In 1980, the bureau says, 5.9 percent of blacks were missed, compared to 0.7 percent of whites. Baltimore officials estimate that 29,000 residents were not counted.

A big-city lawsuit, in which Baltimore didn't take part, has forced the U.S. Commerce Department, which oversees the census, to consider using statistical methods to adjust the 1990 count. The secretary of commerce is to decide by July 15 whether to do so.

Baltimore's population peaked in 1950 at nearly 950,000. In 1950, the city accounted for 40 percent of Maryland's population. Now only 15.4 percent of Marylanders live in Baltimore, according to the figures released yesterday.

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