Baltimore’s population has dipped below 600,000 for the first time in more than a century, according to U.S. Census estimates released Thursday.
The city’s estimated population was 593,490 as of July 1, 2019, the new data shows.
That suggests Baltimore lost 8,953 people, or 1.5% of its population, from the previous year.
While the city’s population has been trending downward for decades, it had some small increases during the administration of former Democratic Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, standing at more than 623,000 in 2014.
But since 2015, when Baltimore saw civil unrest after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries he suffered in police custody, the city has experienced annual declines in population.
None of the counties surrounding the city saw their population substantially decline last year, noted Michael Rendall, director of the Maryland Population Research Center and a sociology professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The city’s population loss, he said, “is not a phenomenon reflective of the overall metropolitan area."
Since 2010, the city has lost 27,280 residents, shedding more than 4% of its population, according to the estimates.
Welcoming new people should be a top policy priority of the city, said Seema Iyer, who oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute.
“We need that message to be very clear in the leadership — that we want people to move into the city of Baltimore, that we want them to be part of the city,” Iyer said, adding that leaders must work to ensure that there is enough affordable housing and a good transit system.
In addition to people leaving the city, a decrease in both births and in the number of people who have moved to Baltimore from other countries has contributed to the recent population decline, observers said.
In the past, immigration has helped offset population loss from people moving out of the city, Iyer said.
“That definitely has declined the last couple of years,” she said, pointing to federal immigration policies under the Trump administration.
The new data does not specify the demographics of people who are leaving the city or say why they did.
In 2015, a Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance report for Rawlings-Blake’s “Grow Baltimore” initiative identified key factors that make people want to leave the city.
They were: “daily stressors such as litter, parking, property crime and vacant housing; high property taxes and insurance rates; poor performing public schools and lack of information about school choice; and few market-rate housing choices for new retirees.”
Since 2015, violence has spiked in the city, with more than 300 homicides each year.
Census demographers base the annual population estimates on births, deaths, and migration data. These yearly estimates are revised and updated over time. A comprehensive count of every U.S. resident takes place every 10 years and is currently underway.
The population counts help determine how much federal money Maryland’s counties and Baltimore City receive for health care, water and sewer, housing and other programs.
In a statement Thursday, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young didn’t speak to the possible reasons for population decline, but said the numbers “are extremely important and help underscore the critical need to get the 2020 Census count as complete and accurate as possible.”
“I have made boosting Baltimore’s completion rate for the 2020 Census a top priority for my administration,” the Democrat said. "We can’t afford to undercount our population.”
Overall, Maryland’s population increased by 0.2% over the year, standing at 6,045,680 residents in 2019, according to the new census estimates.
Neighboring Howard County had one of the state’s fastest rates of growth over the year (1%), adding more than 3,000 residents for a total of 325,690. Frederick County was the state’s fastest-growing jurisdiction, adding 1.8% to its population.
Baltimore County’s population, meanwhile, decreased by 0.1%, to 827,370.
“We need that message to be very clear in the leadership — that we want people to move into the city of Baltimore, that we want them to be part of the city."
Seema Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore
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It’s been more than 100 years since the city of Baltimore’s population was under 600,000.
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In 1910, roughly 558,000 residents were counted, according to historical census data provided by the Maryland Department of Planning. By 1920, the city had grown to more than 730,000.
The city’s population peaked at nearly 950,000 in 1950.
The 2020 census has launched, but faces challenges during the nation’s coronavirus crisis. The Census Bureau has suspended field operations until Wednesday, and local outreach events are canceled.
Officials are urging people to respond to the census online using a computer, smartphone or other device. People can also respond by phone or mail. Later in the year, census takers are scheduled to visit households of those who don’t respond.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us to make sure that every resident completes the 2020 Census,” Young said. “Completing the form is more important than ever, and I’m calling on every resident to do your part and get counted.”
During the pandemic, outreach activities will be conducted on social media and through phone banking and texting, the mayor’s office said, adding that the city also plans to distribute information on the census at the dozens of meal sites set up because of the outbreak.