All that Glittered?

November 08, 1992

Question: Which two regions of Maryland lost more people to other states than they gained during the 1980s?

Answer: Western Maryland, whose economic troubles are well-known. . . and greater Baltimore.

The past decade has been touted as a boom time for Maryland, an age of renaissance when the Inner Harbor revitalization helped make this region the envy of the nation. In many respects it was. But figures flowing from the 1990 Census suggest the top grades Maryland gave itself were exaggerated.

The Washington area was by far the engine that drove the fresh growth in this state during the decade. About half the newcomers to Maryland during the 1980s settled in Montgomery County.

In the Baltimore region, alas, the city and every county except Howard lost more migrants to other states than they gained. The roads were more jammed, the schools were overcrowded. But a lot of the crowding was the result of a huge game of musical chairs. Baltimore City lost population to Baltimore County; Baltimore County, in turn, lost to Harford and Carroll.

In fact, the largest number of new Marylanders came here crying and without earnings -- babies, whose numbers rose 20 percent in the region and 25 percent statewide, and whose presence had required huge expenditures for school construction. Residents moved to the outer suburbs, requiring more roads and schools. So infrastructure costs boomed, but an influx of income producers from other states didn't, or at least not to the extent we might have imagined.

It would be a mistake to give the impression that the numbers are all bad. From 1985 to 1990, Maryland did quite well, especially in comparison to the 1975-85 period. The state got richer and smarter -- climbing to fourth in the nation in household income and fifth in the rate of adults holding at least a bachelor's degree. It had a net gain in migrants, mostly to the suburban Washington and upper Eastern Shore areas.

But lately, Maryland has been back-sliding from the front ranks, with income and employment growth falling well below the national average.

A recent survey of employers suggested that Baltimore will continue to lose jobs to the suburbs, and that Washington's northern suburbs will remain the state's economic hot spots.

These conditions show that the Baltimore region must pull together; that Washington's growth may have given us an inflated sense of ours; that as the region's linchpins -- Baltimore City and Baltimore County -- struggle, so does the region. Yes, this region in the past decade was a land of plenty in some respects. But it also shared some common ground with Appalachia, which should leave us far less complacent.

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