Maryland, 2030: more crowded, population older

Projections by U.S. Census Bureau say 7 million people will live in state by then

April 21, 2005|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

Maryland is likely to become more crowded and a whole lot grayer over the next 25 years, according to the latest census projections -- a trend experts say could challenge the state's ability to house and support its increasingly dependent population.

Projections to be released today by the U.S. Census Bureau foresee Maryland's population reaching 7 million by 2030, an increase of nearly 33 percent and significantly more growth than predicted by state planners.

If the projections bear out, the state would become the 16th most populous in the nation, from 19th now, passing such geographically larger states as Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin.

FOR THE RECORD - The Census Bureau projects Maryland's population growing more than Tennessee's through 2030, but not overtaking that state's overall population. An article in Thursday's Maryland section erroneously identified Tennessee as one of the states Maryland would surpass in population if census projections prove accurate. The Sun regrets the error.

At the same time, census projections show the number of Marylanders 65 or older is expected to double by 2030 to about 1.2 million, or nearly one of every five residents.

"In some sense, we're a victim of our own success," said Anirban Basu, chief executive officer of Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore.

"We call Maryland the land of pleasant living," he added. "In many counties of our state ... seniors are not leaving. ... They're staying in their communities because it's a very pleasant place to stay."

Basu predicted that as the ranks of older residents grow, the demand for human services, health care and transportation oriented to the elderly is going to grow "by leaps and bounds" -- putting pressure on government to provide them.

"It is certainly a challenge," said Arnold Eppel, director of the Department of Aging for Baltimore County, which has the state's highest concentration of older residents.

The county is preparing for the projected gray wave, Eppel said, because the first of the baby boomers -- that surge of people born in the years immediately after World War II -- will become eligible next year to use county senior centers.

The county just built its 19th senior center, and it is installing fitness centers in them, Eppel said, in anticipation that older boomers will want to work out among similarly aging bodies in the future instead of at health clubs.

"We're no longer flexing our biceps in the mirror," Eppel said, but still want to stay healthy.

He said four county senior centers have been outfitted with exercise equipment geared for the elderly -- relying on air pressure instead of weights, for instance, to help avoid injuries.

State planning officials -- who had projected the state's population would grow by 22 percent by 2030 to nearly 6.5 million people -- said that based on local land-use trends, they still don't believe Maryland will grow as much as federal demographers predict.

"We think it's an unlikely scenario," said Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning.

The key difference between the two agencies' projections, he said, appears to be an assumption by the Census Bureau that the state's population will be buoyed by a steady influx of foreign-born immigrants over the next 25 years, who will also bear more children.

But most foreign immigrants tend to settle in metropolitan areas, Goldstein said, and development limits and past land-use trends in Maryland's suburbs suggest population growth will be more modest than federal projections indicate.

Whichever projection is more prescient, state officials say there appears to be enough housing being built or rehabilitated to accommodate even the higher growth rate predicted by federal demographers, though not enough to meet the specialized needs of the elderly.

Based on census projections, about 23,000 new households would be formed in or move into Maryland every year, said Massoud Ahmadi, research director for the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Local officials across the state have been permitting construction of about 27,000 new housing units annually the past five years.

"If local jurisdictions continue to issue housing permits at the pace of the past five years, we do not foresee shortages of housing for the next five years," Ahmadi said. But he noted that there is a lack of affordable rental housing in the state, especially for families, seniors and people with disabilities.

As if that isn't enough to worry about, the boom in older residents will be accompanied by a 26 percent surge in youngsters, census projections indicate. The number of Marylanders younger than age 18 is expected to grow by 362,000 to 1.7 million by 2030.

Those twin trends pose an economic challenge, said Goldstein, the state planning economist, because young and old tend to be dependent on support from the working-age population, whether for education or Social Security.

"I hope our property values keep rising because local government is going to need those resources going forward," Basu said. Otherwise, he added, "we're going to see some fiscal strains."

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