Black flight from the cities to the suburbs is the most notable trend in Maryland that we have learned so far from the 1990 census.
Montgomery County charged to the front as Maryland's biggest subdivision. Washington (formerly Md., now D.C.) is getting whiter, and Baltimore city is at the turning point.
Prince George's is one of the first suburban counties in the country with a black majority, thanks to white flight out as well as black flight in. Baltimore County is following behind it in black growth and white decline.
The most dramatic growth of all is in suburbs so outer that no one knows what they are suburbs of. Howard County grew 58 percent in the decade.
Much of the growth on the Washington side is of immigrants classified as of white race and Hispanic ethnicity, and of Asians. The upsurge in ''other'' race (meaning not black, white, native American, Asian or Pacific Islander) is also related to the surge in Hispanic ethnicity near Washington.
The most obsolete stereotype in Maryland politics that is shown up as needing revision is the traditional Baltimore view of Montgomery County as the mansions of Washington power brokers.
Montgomery has grown to house 16 percent of all Marylanders. It is still the state's wealthiest county, but less white than it used to be, more modest, full of new subdivisions and people who commute out rather than in. Montgomery is getting more urban by the week. Its school system is 38 percent minority students.
Prince George's has achieved a symbolic black majority of 50.7 percent. Its white population declined by 76,811, while its black population grew 121,931.
In the census of ten years ago, Maryland had a population of 4,217,000, which was 74.9 percent white and 22.7 percent black. Baltimore led with a population of 786,775, followed by Prince George's County at 665,071, Baltimore County at 655,615, and Montgomery County at 579,053. The question then was whether Prince George's or Baltimore County would be first to overtake ++ the city.
In the 1990 census, the Maryland population has grown 13.4 percent to 4,781,468, which is 71 percent white and 24.9 percent black.
Montgomery County leaped 30.7 percent to 757,027 people, of whom 92,267 are black. Baltimore has 736,014 people, of whom 436,768 are black, followed by Prince George's 729,268 of whom 369,791 are black and Baltimore County's 692,134, of whom 85,451 are black.
The two Washington metropolitan counties of Maryland combined now have 1,486,295 people, while Baltimore city and County combined have only 1,428,148. They may always have been richer and smarter than we were, but for the first time, they also outnumber us.
At least, we're still prettier.
The Washington metropolitan area grew 20.7 percent and remained eighth-largest in the nation. The Baltimore metropolitan area grew 8.3 percent and fell from 15th to 18th place. Metropolitan Miami, Seattle, San Diego and Minneapolis overtook Metropolitan Baltimore, which sailed past Metropolitan Pittsburgh.
That ranking applies 1980s boundaries of standard or consolidated metropolitan statistical areas to 1990 county figures. Were the Washington and Baltimore statistical metropolitan areas to be consolidated into one -- which has been advocated -- it would have 6,305,746 people at last count. This would nudge out San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose for fourth place behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
But that is fourth place only if nothing similar is done to enlarge San Francisco etc., Philadelphia-Wilmington-Trenton, Detroit-Ann Arbor (and a hunk of Ontario, if they dare count it) or Boston-Lawrence-Salem (could they squeeze in Providence?).
Baltimore, while taking a 6.5 percent population loss in the decade, went from 54.8 percent black in 1980 to 59.2 percent black in 1990. Its black population growth exceeded black flight by only 5,000, while white population dwindled some 59,000.
In Baltimore County, blacks rose from some 8 to 12.3 percent of population, while whites declined 2.1 percent. Small wonder that black people are beginning to be heard as a political force in Baltimore County as never before.
Washington is further along in this process. Its population loss slowed to 4.9 percent in the 1980s from 15 percent in the 1970s. Washington's black population declined 11 percent in the 1980s, while its white population, including Hispanics, went up about 8,000 for the first decade gain since the 1940s.
A majority of the black people of Metropolitan Washington today live in suburban Maryland and Virginia, not in the District of Columbia.
Metropolitan Baltimore is farther behind but following in the same direction.
(This column is a first look at the big picture in Maryland. It is based on Census Bureau releases and reporting in The Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. For the sake of argument, I have assumed any undercount to be constant from 1980 to 1990, in Washington and Baltimore, and among black and immigrant groups, and therefore irrelevant to my comparisons.)
Daniel Berger is an editorial writer for The Sun.