Suburban areas of Baltimore and Washington continued to see steady population growth in 2015, led by Howard County, according to new estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau, even as Baltimore City saw next to no growth in the past half-decade.
The growth means Maryland is now estimated to be home to more than 6 million people, up from 5.77 million residents counted during the 2010 Census. The population has been increasing because more people have been born in Maryland than have died each year, and immigration from overseas has been growing for each of the past five years.
Mark Goldstein, an economist at the Maryland Department of Planning, said international immigration has become increasingly important as more Marylanders move out of the state. Despite that trend, the state's population figures look healthy, he said.
"There's no danger of the state population declining," Goldstein said.
A good part of the growth has occurred in Howard County, which has benefited from its position between Washington and Baltimore, said Richard Clinch, an economist and the director of the Jacob France Institute of the University of Baltimore.
"Why is Howard County growing?" he said. "Because of location."
Howard added 4,700 residents last year and is now home to 313,000 people, the census estimates indicate, and has grown by more than 9 percent since the 2010 census.
"Our location, top-ranked education system, highly-skilled workforce and high level of services to residents are all reasons why people choose to live here and why businesses choose to relocate or expand here," Howard County Executive Allan H. Kittleman said in a statement. "We also recognize the responsibility to make sure that we grow in a manner that is sustainable."
The picture in Baltimore City, which has struggled for years with declining population, is more complicated. The city lost 1,862 residents last year, the bureau estimates, as immigration from overseas failed to compensate for Baltimoreans leaving for other places within the United States.
But the new estimates revised figures for 2014 upward, and now the Census Bureau thinks the city actually grew by 496 people for that year, the third in a row in which its population grew.
The city's population now stands at just under 622,000 people, according to the latest estimates. That translates to growth of a tenth of a percent since the 2010 Census.
Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said that overall the numbers represent a step forward for the city.
"Slowly but surely, we are making progress toward our goal of growing the city by 10,000 households over 10 years," he said in a statement.
While the annual population figures — which cover July 1 of one year to June 30 of the next — are estimates, the Census Bureau used several sources of data to develop the numbers. The National Center for Health Statistics keeps reliable records of births and deaths, for example, and tax return information provides a good picture of internal migration in the United States.
Still, Ben Bolender, the chief of the population estimates branch at the bureau, said the numbers are subject to revision. Census officials don't yet have complete birth and death information for 2015, so some estimating is involved.
"Most of the time those changes are very small," he said.
But in Baltimore, which is on the razor's edge between growth and decline and where the population number is seen as a barometer for the city's wider health, even minuscule differences can make a difference.
Libit said officials think the figures for 2015 will be revised upward next year.
"There is no doubt that Baltimore is moving in the right direction," he said. "We would expect that — like in past years — as the Census Bureau refines its data, the final population number for Baltimore City will ultimately be adjusted to reflect the growth that all of us see every day."
Although the city's population is holding roughly steady after years of declines, Rawlings-Blake has made attracting 10,000 new families — or 22,000 people — to Baltimore by 2020 one of her signature initiatives. Roughly halfway to the deadline, the figures suggest that without a significant turnaround the city will miss that goal.
The city has welcomed about 11,600 people from overseas in the past five years, but in the same period more than 22,500 city residents left overall for other places within the United States.
Three Maryland counties — Dorchester, Garrett and Allegany — saw more rapid declines than Baltimore last year, pointing to continuing struggles in mountain and Eastern Shore counties to retain people. All three saw death rates outstrip their birth rates and more people leave than move in.