More Baltimore countians packed up and moved out during the 1980s than moved in, and planners say the search for jobs in the Sun Belt, and affordable houses with yards in neighboring counties were probably the major reasons.
"The notion that we are growing at an enormous rate, that communities are being overrun by development . . . is outdated," said P. David Fields, director of the Baltimore County office of planning and zoning. "To some extent, we're sort of a post-growth manufacturing county," he said.
The migration numbers don't mean the county lost population during the 1980s. "The county's definitely growing," said economist Mark Goldstein, of the state Office of Planning.
For one thing, more than 45,000 people -- largely middle-class blacks -- moved into the county from Baltimore City, nearly offsetting the losses to out-migration.
There also were more births than deaths. That helped push the county's total population from 655,615 to 692,134 during the 1980s.
The net loss due solely to migration for the decade totaled just 1,648 people, a number "insignificant in terms of the total population," Mr. Goldstein said.
But the net out-migration during the 1980s placed Baltimore County -- the state's fourth-largest subdivision -- among just six jurisdictions in Maryland that had more people going than coming. The others were Baltimore City, Prince George's County, and rural Allegany, Dorchester and Washington counties.
According to data compiled from federal income tax returns, most counties recorded sizable net gains in migration. The big winners during the 1980s were Montgomery (45,509), Howard (39,752), Carroll (23,695), Harford (18,480) and Frederick (17,803).
This new reality poses many new questions for Baltimore County planners as they work to update the county's Master Plan by 1995. They must figure out where to direct land use, county programs and infrastructure improvements at a time when the old rules appear to be changing.
"The image of the county as being very wealthy and subject to growth pressures is not quite right," Mr. Fields said. "It's terribly complicated. This is a very delicate phase in the development of Baltimore County."
Most of the county's losses to out-migration occurred during the first half of the 1980s, Mr. Goldstein said. There was a smaller net gain in migration during the latter half of the decade.
"If you remember Baltimore County in the early 1980s, the county experienced a large number of layoffs and shutdowns in the manufacturing sector, especially steel and the smokestack industries," he said. "I'm sure that contributed to the outflow from Baltimore County during the first half of the decade."
The Internal Revenue Service data show that the largest number of people (8,185) who left Baltimore County between 1980 and 1985 went to the South, where manufacturing was relatively unscathed by the recession. Older residents who went South to retire also contributed to the movement.
At the same time, about 2,900 people arrived in the county from states in the Northeast and North Central United States, which were hit even harder than Maryland by the recession.
The county also saw net losses of population to all its neighboring counties and to communities in Pennsylvania. But those losses were more than offset by the arrival of 16,629 people moving in from Baltimore City.
Planners believe that migration to the county was led by middle class blacks leaving the city in search of the same things middle class whites sought when they left the city a decade earlier -- single-family homes with yards, better public schools, less crime and more distance from the poor.
"They seem to have the same aspirations and prejudices as white families," Mr. Fields said.
"In the second half of the decade things kind of reversed, and Baltimore County became a net gainer," Mr. Goldstein said. Again, the economy provides an explanation.
"The latter half of the 1980s were very good economically," he said. "There was a lot of job growth in the state and in Baltimore County. Where the growth occurred was mostly in the non-manufacturing sector -- services -- although Baltimore County did benefit from increased defense expenditures characteristic of the Reagan Administration . . . at least until 1988 or 1989."
Net migration from Northeastern states into Baltimore County tripled during the last half of the decade, while the net loss of countians to the South and West fell from about 9,800 to just 2,900.
At the same time, the number of Baltimore County residents packing up and moving to burgeoning developments in Carroll and Harford counties nearly doubled, from 8,900 to more than 17,000.
"It's essentially during the latter half of 1980s that these 'second-tier' suburban counties developed quite rapidly," Mr. Goldstein said, citing building permit data. "Out-migration from Baltimore County was most likely younger families moving out to the outer suburban ring."