Baltimore continues to bleed population, Census says
BALTIMORE – New annual estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show that Baltimore is continuing to shed inhabitants, bringing the overall population of Maryland’s biggest city down to what it was over 100 years ago.
The latest Census data shows that Baltimore lost more than 7,300 citizens during the 12 months that ended July 1. That’s a loss of 1.2% of the city’s population. It’s the fourth straight year of population decline for Baltimore while rival counties are attracting newcomers.
Baltimore has been hemorrhaging residents for a long time. In 1950, it was America’s sixth most populous city, a manufacturing dynamo with nearly a million residents, many employed by Bethlehem Steel. Over decades, with factories closed and “white flight” in the 1960s and ‘70s followed by waves of “black flight, it’s since shrunk to the country’s 30th largest.
Census data released Thursday suggests the city’s population is now just over 600,000 people. The population of the metropolis nicknamed “Charm City” stood at roughly 730,000 in 1920.
Andrew Fenelon, associate director of the Maryland Population Research Center, said Baltimore has seen a roughly 3% population decline since 2015. That’s the same year that the startlingly segregated city was rocked by massive protests and riots following the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man who died of a spinal cord injury he suffered while in police custody.
Fenelon said that nearby Washington, D.C., presented a particularly interesting comparison with Baltimore since the population of the nation’s capital has grown by about 100,000 people since 2010.
“D.C. has had more success in attracting highly educated residents with a strong economy and job base that Baltimore has not been able to match,” he said, noting that there were some meager population gains under former Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake during that time.
Baltimore’s planning department, which monitors demographic information to inform city decisions, did not immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment about the latest census data.
Much of the city’s population losses are occurring in downtrodden swaths of West and East Baltimore, where there is no shortage of racially segregated, deeply disenfranchised neighborhoods. The city’s sea of vacant lots and over 16,000 uninhabitable residential properties with weeds growing out of boarded-up windows has proven intractable. Housing areas say about 20,000 other city properties are unoccupied and pose a risk of becoming crumbling shells.
Baltimore is hardly alone in dealing with issues of urban decay and some city districts are flourishing. But the tourism-focused Inner Harbor and prosperous neighborhoods such as Canton and Mount Vernon are a world away from large sections of the city hobbled by generational poverty and profound inequality.
The main reasons for Baltimore’s dwindling population are the subject of endless interpretation. But it is struggling with failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and a beleaguered police department under federal oversight that’s failing to curb one of the country’s highest rates of violent crime. Baltimore’s income tax of 3.2% is the maximum rate allowed by law and its property taxes are higher than surrounding areas.
The situation surely isn’t helped by recurrent leadership scandals. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, currently on an indefinite leave of absence citing deteriorating health, is under investigation for questionable financial dealings selling her self-published children’s books. Last month, one of her former police commissioners was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison for tax fraud.
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