Arriving in Baltimore for college in 2004 from her native New York City, Vienna DeGiacomo assumed she would quickly head back north after graduating from Goucher College.

But nearly three years after receiving her English degree, DeGiacomo, 24, is still here, in part waiting for her husband to finish law school but also, she said, enjoying the city's job opportunities and relatively low living costs.

After graduating, she received "a great job offer" from the investment firm T. Rowe Price. She started work Sept. 15, 2008, the day the financial giant Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. Watching the industry fall apart around her, DeGiacomo decided to stay put.

"We didn't know if we move, will I be able to get a job somewhere else?" the Hampden resident said. "Probably not at this point."

Her story illustrates a side effect of the economic downturn that has Baltimore officials hopeful as they await the release of 2010 Census figures: What can be frustrating for many Americans — scant job opportunities and few buyers for houses purchased during the boom years — can be a boon for older cities, keeping residents there for longer than they'd intended to stay. Those residents, in turn, prop up tax rolls and help stabilize neighborhoods.

Across town, Trenessa Annibal and her family are staying in Baltimore for very different reasons from DeGiacomo's. She and her husband, Yves, live with their baby BellaGrace in a rehabbed rowhouse near Patterson Park that looks as if it could be featured in an interior decorating magazine. They fell in love with the "quaintness" of Baltimore and bought the home in 2007, Annibal said.

They would like to move to a bigger place and have more children, she said, but because of the housing slump, don't think they can sell their home for its appraised value.

"We'd very much like to be in a nicer, quieter, greener neighborhood," Annibal said.

Census figures released in December contained a glimmer of hope for planners in older urban areas in the Midwest and Northeast, used to seeing their cities hollowed out by an exodus to surrounding suburbs and booming metropolises in the South and West.

For the first time since 1950, the figures showed, Washington's population increased, inching above 600,000. The district hasn't seen population figures in that range since the 1990 Census.

The Washington numbers, coupled with several local trends, have Baltimore officials eager for the full release of the population counts, to be unveiled in February and March. The count in 2000 revealed that Baltimore lost a greater share of its population — about 11.5 percent — in the preceding decade than any of the other 20 largest cities in the country.

But city officials say the 2010 Census figures could show that Baltimore has clung to most of its residents in the past decade, quietly putting an end to a half century of population decline.

"I think we are, let's say optimistic, maybe a little cautiously optimistic, that this official number coming out … will point to a stabilization of our population," said Thomas J. Stosur, the city planning director.

An analysis of census data this month by William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution found that between 2005 and 2007, more college-educated adults over age 25 were leaving the Baltimore area than were moving in. But the Baltimore region — along with other older metropolitan areas such as Pittsburgh and Minnesota's Twin Cities — managed to reverse that trend near the end of the decade, which Frey attributed in part to the poor economy.

"People are not moving as much as before, either locally or in terms of their long-distance movement," he said. "Young people are hanging out, waiting to see where they can buy a house, where they can get a job, where they can start a family."

A Census Bureau estimate pegged the city's population in 2009 at 637,418, a decline of 2.2 percent since the 2000 figure of 651,154. Stosur said he expects the count for 2010 to be above the 2009 estimate.

"I'd be pleasantly surprised if we broke the 650,000 mark," he said.

Stosur points to two trends to back up his expectations. The first is growth in the number of downtown residents, as reported by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc.

According to data from the partnership, the number of people living downtown — which the group defines as the area within a one-mile radius of the intersection of Pratt and Light streets — stands at more than 41,000, an 8 percent increase since 2007.