The recent Census Bureau report that noted Maryland's passage of the 5 million mark in population is a case of seeing the glass as half-full or half-empty.
First, the good news. The state's 4.7 percent growth from April 1990 through June 1994 was at the average growth for the nation as a whole. It far surpassed the 1.4 percent growth for the mid-Atlantic region that includes Maryland.
This is one-third the growth rate of the 1980s, but there's a silver lining there, too. Maryland's central and southern counties could use a breather from a 40-year boom that has outstripped every other sizable state on the East Coast save Florida. As for those concerned that some of the steam is out of Maryland's economic engine, they may not recall that the first four years of the 1980s saw slower population growth (3.5 percent) than the first four years of the '90s. This decade could look a whole lot different come the millennium.
Now, the bad news. Like all of its urban neighbors stretching north to Connecticut, Maryland had a net loss in people moving to or from other states. That's another sign of Maryland's problems in economic development, of the sudden deflation of its core defense and construction industries, of Baltimore's decline as a financial center.
The two groups fueling Maryland's growth are people who don't add much to the local economy immediately -- foreign immigrants and babies.
To be sure, Maryland's immigrant population is more diverse and presumably more well-to-do than the immigrant flow to the Sunbelt. Nevertheless, school systems in Montgomery, Prince George's, Howard and even Anne Arundel are having to prepare for growing numbers of students who come from non-English speaking homes.
The most troublesome number in the mix continues to be the population drain in Baltimore City, which has lost nearly a quarter of its people since 1950. The hope is that the recently designated empowerment zone plan can attract business, create jobs and slow the migration outward. The city's health is integral to the vitality of Maryland.