Baltimore population down 6.1% since 1990 1995 census estimate finds decline of 45,000, to 691,131

March 08, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's population declined by nearly 45,000 from 1990 to 1995, dropping to 691,131 last year, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates being released today. The city lost population at almost twice the rate of the 1980s. The 6.1 percent drop since 1990 approached the rate of loss during the 1970s, the decade of most severe decline.

"It follows the trend we've been seeing in the past. But we think future numbers are going to show a slowdown, a leveling off," said Charles C. Graves III, the city planning director.

More than 900,000 people lived in Baltimore as recently as 1970. Last year, the city's population dipped below 700,000 for the first time since World War I.

"We're losing population like everything," said Charles Brown, who owns a liquor store in the 1400 block of Chester St. in East Baltimore. "I've been at this place for 18 years, and when I came here every house on this block was full. Now there are only three tenants in these houses. All the rest are vacant. It affects my business very badly."

"People are just scared to come out because of crime in the area, and you can't much fault people," said Mr. Brown, president of the Broadway East Community Association.

While Baltimore's population declined, Maryland's topped 5 million in 1995, the Census Bureau estimated. But the state grew more slowly -- 5.5 percent from 1990 to 1995 -- than during the 1980s.

The state's less-robust growth is "indicative of the economic downturn during most of the 1990s," said Michel A. Lettre, assistant director of the Maryland Office of Planning.

While Marylanders moved out of state to find jobs, immigrants from abroad came to the state in large numbers. More than 64,000 settled in Maryland in the first half of the 1990s, nearly duplicating the record pace of the 1980s. Nearly half of the immigrants went to Montgomery County, the state's largest. In the Baltimore area, Baltimore County received about 7,000 immigrants, the city 4,000, Howard County more than 2,600 and Anne Arundel County about 2,000.

Maryland's overall pattern of population growth did not change markedly from that of the 1980s, according to the estimates. Outer-tier suburban counties, such as Howard, Carroll and Harford in the Baltimore area, absorbed young families and other residents of the city and the older suburbs.

Baltimore County grew by 3.4 percent, a slower rate than in any other jurisdiction in the state except for Baltimore and the other two that lost population: Allegany County in Western Maryland and Dorchester County on the Lower Eastern Shore.

Calvert County, where the population grew by 25.7 percent in five years, was the state's fastest-growing subdivision, followed by Howard (17 percent) and Frederick (16.8) counties. However, Howard's growth subsided considerably from the 1980s, when it grew by 58 percent.

"We're seeing continued outward sprawl and what you might call abandonment of the older suburbs and inner core," Mr. Lettre said.

Marylanders continued to gobble up land far from urban centers. In booming Calvert County, more than three-fourths of recent homebuilding was on lots bigger than a quarter-acre, and almost 40 percent was on lots of more than an acre, according to state planners.

Mr. Lettre said sprawl increases burdens on local governments -- and taxpayers -- as roads, schools, libraries and other services must be provided to a larger area. He cited snow removal as one example of sprawl's cost.

In Baltimore, nearly 68,000 more people moved out than moved in from 1990 to 1995, the Census Bureau said. But the combination of 19,000 more births than deaths and 4,000 immigrants totaled 23,000 new residents. The net decline: 45,000.

The Census Bureau estimates are based on analyses of birth and death statistics, income tax returns and immigration data. They do not include information on income or race.

City officials think the census undercounted Baltimore's population by more than 30,000 in 1990, but they do not dispute the finding of population decline.

However, planners think urban flight and suburban sprawl might wane.

Mr. Graves said he expects city efforts to provide affordable housing, promote homeownership, reform the public schools and fight crime to slow the decline in population.

Mr. Lettre said that as the baby boom generation (born from 1946 to 1964) grows older and its children leave home, some might come back to Baltimore.

"The city's culture, restaurants and entertainment -- and not driving around the suburbs in vans -- might be attractive," he said. "The city could have a renaissance if a fraction of boomers make that move. The only thing you'd have to provide them would be an element of safety; schools would be a nonissue for that group."

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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