Md. population spreads

State's growth rate slows

rural areas increase fastest

March 22, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN REPORTER

Maryland's population continues to spread out, even as its overall growth is slowing, the latest census estimates show.

Relatively lightly populated Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland counties experienced the highest growth rates in the state in the 12 months ending last July 1, while Howard County joined the big suburban jurisdictions of Montgomery and Baltimore counties as the leading gainers in absolute numbers of residents.

For the first time, however, at least in recent years, Prince George's - the state's second-most-populous jurisdiction, after Montgomery - and Anne Arundel counties lost people, by census estimates.

Economists and others attributed the declines in part to the steep increase in home prices in Central Maryland in recent years, pushing middle-class families to seek more affordable housing elsewhere.

David Dansker, a 35-year-old cable splicer for Verizon Communications, is part of Caroline County's recent surge, and Anne Arundel's slump. He moved his family a year ago from Pasadena to Denton in search of a slower lifestyle.

"I grew up bored and wanted my children to grow up bored, too," said Dansker, a native of Charles County. He said he found a home in Caroline for $365,000 that would have cost $500,000 on the Western Shore.

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold disputed the Census estimate showing that the county's population dropped by 97 people. He said the latest information he has seen indicates that the county is growing.

In any case, Leopold added, "it's the calm before the storm" of booming population expected when thousands of new jobs relocate to Fort Meade over the next several years in a nationwide military base realignment.

"This county remains a very attractive county," Leopold said. "Million-dollar homes pop up like dandelions after a summer rain. And the only wrinkle in the fabric is that there is a serious work force housing problem. A number of people who work for the county live in Pennsylvania or Delaware."

Overall, the state gained slightly more than 26,000 people from 2005 to 2006, an increase of just 0.5 percent. The total population gain was 27th nationally, while the growth rate fell to 36th.

Growth elsewhere in the United States, particularly in the South and the West, eclipsed Maryland's - one county, Maricopa in Arizona, added 130,000 residents, five times Maryland's statewide total.

The census figures are not based on an actual head count or on surveys, but on estimates of births, deaths, international migration and internal movement from one county or state to the next.

Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning, said the state's population slowdown appears to stem mainly from a growing exodus of residents, which might be related to the housing crunch. He pointed to census and other data from the Internal Revenue Service showing Maryland residents moving to Pennsylvania and to West Virginia, in particular.

The state gained overall as a result of an influx of more than 21,000 people from other countries, combined with a birth rate that produced a net gain of 30,000 people over those who died in the past year.

Baltimore City still showed declines in the latest census estimates, though city officials had successfully appealed the federal agency's 2005 figures. Goldstein said the city's losses appeared to be easing, but the drops in Prince George's and Anne Arundel were surprising.

Anne Arundel has seen more residents move out than in from elsewhere in the state for the past three years, and the losses jumped in the past year. Out- migration soared in Prince George's as well, overwhelming its increase in immigration and natural births.

Montgomery and Baltimore counties accounted for roughly a third of the state's overall population increase, adding 4,700 and nearly 4,000 residents, respectively, in the past year, by census estimates. Howard had the highest rate of growth in the Baltimore area, boosting its population by 3,300, or 1.2 percent.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said his jurisdiction's continued growth reflects its "great quality of life" and "tremendous" location between Baltimore and Washington.

"People want to be in Howard County, and that means we have tremendous land-use pressures that come along with that," said Ulman. But he noted that the county has limited its rate of home building.

"We believe we're growing at a steady pace we can manage," he said.

While growth rates slowed in much of the Baltimore and Washington areas, Goldstein said, the declines were not as great in exurban and rural counties, and a few jurisdictions saw no weakening of their rates of population increase.

"It's what we call the third tier of counties that are growing more rapidly now than they were," Goldstein said.

The six counties with the fastest growth rates are on the Eastern Shore or in Southern Maryland. Caroline County led the pack for the second year in a row, with a 2.6 percent annual increase, higher than the year before.

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