MARYLAND IS experiencing significant population growth, particularly in and around the suburbs of Washington. But the Baltimore region is also attracting more people, lured by jobs and somewhat more affordable housing. Much of the state's overall growth is being fueled by minorities, and the increasing diversity is a growing national trend as Maryland is one of nine states in which minorities account for at least 40 percent of the population, according to 2004 data from the U.S. Census.
Employment may be the magnet that draws people to the state. But keeping them here will depend on a reasonable and prudent mix of policies that address issues of affordable housing, schools, living wages and transportation. Regardless of color, people have to feel that Maryland is a place where they can thrive.
The latest Census data show considerable movement of minorities - including many new immigrants - into areas closest to Washington, particularly Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Statewide, the African-American population increased by about 115,400, Latinos by nearly 70,000 and Asians by nearly 42,000 from 2000 to 2004. By comparison, the population of whites increased by about 24,400. Closer to home, Baltimore County saw an out-migration of nearly 13,700 whites, compared to gains of about 29,600 blacks, nearly 4,700 Asians and 4,000 Latinos. As has been true for quite a while, some of the growth in the minority population of the surrounding suburbs comes at the city's expense, as Baltimore lost nearly 12,000 whites and 6,500 blacks, but gained about 2,500 Latinos and nearly 900 Asians.
Demographic experts say that, in a nation of movers, minorities have followed familiar patterns, fanning out from cities in search of the same things that induce other families to move - single family homes, better schools and less crime. In the Baltimore area, researchers also see minorities moving to some inner ring suburbs, which may have more affordable homes. In the midst of a real estate boom that has resulted in huge increases in sale and rental prices, policymakers, employers, developers, planners and others need to pay closer attention to the need to bring average wages and home prices closer together, so that more people can actually afford to live where they work.
Similarly, state and local officials need to provide more resources to ensure that schools can accommodate the growing population and can sustain or improve the quality of instruction that children receive. Just as more people have been drawn to Maryland for its many attractions, they could vote with their feet and leave if the supply of well-paying jobs, affordable places to live, good schools and convenient ways to get around can't keep up with demand.