Baltimore population lowest in 8 decades Decline: New census estimates show the city with 675,401 residents -- 60,000 fewer than in 1990 -- while Howard, Carroll and Harford boom.

March 21, 1997|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Robert Guy Matthews contributed to this article.

Baltimore's population plunged last year to 675,401, its lowest level in eight decades, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released yesterday.

Since 1990, Baltimore has lost 60,000 residents, more than in the entire 1980s, the figures show. The net decline has grown each year, peaking at 14,000 last year. The city is losing people at a rate equal to the 1970s, its decade of greatest population decline.

Baltimore made up 40 percent of Maryland's population in 1950, but now accounts for only 13 percent. It ranks a distant fourth in population among state jurisdictions, behind Montgomery (816,999), Prince George's (773,810) and Baltimore (717,859) counties.

Population loss has far-reaching consequences for Baltimore, including the spread of blight in partly abandoned neighborhoods, erosion of the tax base as employers and workers move to the suburbs, and decline in the city's political influence.

Yesterday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called the population loss -- particularly the exodus of younger, middle-class families -- "a matter of great concern to me." He said the causes "could be summed up in two words, and that's safety and schools."

The mayor said recent declines in violent crime and the city's effort to forge a partnership with the state to run the public schools showed that Baltimore was "moving in the right direction" to stem population decline.

"I don't expect to see a drastic reversal of these trends," Schmoke said. "What I hope to see, though, is a slowing down of the population loss."

While the city lost residents, its outermost suburbs -- Howard, Carroll and Harford counties -- showed robust growth from 1990 to last year. Similarly, in the Washington area, Calvert, Frederick and Charles counties were the fastest-growing.

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.

The only bright spot in Baltimore's population outlook was an influx of nearly 5,600 immigrants from abroad between 1990 and 1996. But the city is no longer the first stop for many Baltimore-area immigrants. Baltimore County gained 7,900 residents from immigration.

The largest group of residents left the city for Baltimore County -- more than 24,000 from 1990 to 1995, according to migration statistics compiled by the Maryland Office of Planning.

They are people like John Donaldson, 43, who moved recently from a West Baltimore rowhouse to a Woodlawn rancher, and Betty Manning, 73, who left her home of 39 years in Hunting Ridge for a Timonium condominium.

Donaldson, a teacher's aide and former correctional officer who is raising two sons, ages 7 and 6, moved largely because of crime.

"You couldn't have fun in the neighborhood. There are people walking by with pit bulls, people playing music with lots of profanity, people speeding up and down the street, drug dealers all around," Donaldson said. "I grew up in that neighborhood. Once it was a community. Now it's just a strip of land people live on."

But in Woodlawn, Donaldson said, "If anything happened here, they'd say on the news, 'It happened in a quiet neighborhood. No one expected it.' "

Betty Manning said she and her husband, Michael, who are retired, loved their city neighborhood, a woodsy retreat north of Edmondson Avenue, but they had tired of yardwork and house maintenance.

Although the Mannings were burglarized twice, "we hung in there waiting for the time when it was right for us to go," Betty Manning said. "We were not driven out. We left of our own accord in God's perfect timing."

As it turned out, the Mannings' daughter also moved from Catonsville to York, Pa., about half an hour from their new home, so "we all made the move up the road together," Manning said.

Many Marylanders are moving "up the road," statistics show. In a sort of demographic centrifugal force that spins people off from the center, city residents move to older suburbs, whose residents move to newer suburbs, whose residents move to rural areas, sometimes in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The result is boarded-up houses in the city and suburban sprawl in the counties.

"You have the same number of roads to plow in the city as in 1980, but you have a far smaller population base for which you're doing it," said Michel A. Lettre, assistant director of the Maryland Office of Planning. "At the same time, you have to plow roads in the middle of nowhere where people now live. It stretches things awfully thin."

No one can say when Baltimore's population might bottom out or what it would take to attract many new residents.

"Clearly, a lot of big cities, especially older Northeastern and Midwestern cities, have the same demographic experience as Baltimore," said William P. O'Hare, a demographer with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. "I don't know of any that have found a remedy."

Young, childless couples such as Dan Klocke and Shannon Clancy appear to be what the demographic doctor ordered for Baltimore. They moved from Boston to Charles Village last fall.

"I always wanted to live in the city," said Klocke, 27. He likes Baltimore's culture, sports, ethnic mix -- and he can bike to work.

Cheryl Casciani, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, said she hopes Baltimore's New Schools Initiative, which enables community groups to run schools, will help arrest the population slide.

"If we don't address the public school problem, it's unlikely we can address the population problem," she said. "People are feeling kind of down about the place and looking for ways to feel good about where they live."

Pub Date: 3/21/97

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