Over the past decade, Maryland's population grew far more diverse, while growth slowed dramatically in once-booming counties in the Baltimore area, according to data released Wednesday by the Census Bureau.
Baltimore lost more of its population — about 4.6 percent — than any other major city or county in Maryland. The continued decline dashed the hopes of local officials, who had been optimistic that the data would show the city had retained nearly all of its population or even added residents.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake noted in a statement that the 2000-2010 decline of about 30,000 residents was the smallest since the 1950s, but said "we have more work to do to get Baltimore growing again."
Meanwhile, many suburban areas continued to expand. Washington's distant southern suburbs grew by more than 20 percent — more than twice the rate of the state as a whole. The fastest growth in the Baltimore area came in Howard, Harford and Carroll counties, although even there, growth rates were slower than in the 1990s.
All of Maryland's growth was due to expanding minority populations, as Hispanics more than doubled and the number of non-Hispanic whites dropped. Non-Hispanic whites now make up less than 55 percent of Maryland's 5.8 million people, compared to 65 percent of the state in 2000.
The demographic changes can be seen at the city's Hampstead Hill Academy. Principal Matthew Hornbeck, whose school includes residents of Fells Point, Washington Hill, Canton and Highlandtown, said nearly a third of the students are Hispanic and have roots in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. Just eight years ago, he said, 3 percent of his students were Hispanic.
"People generally continue to think of Baltimore as black and white," he said. "In the southeast, nothing could be further from the truth."
Indeed, though both the black and white populations in Baltimore decreased by around 20,000 each in the last decade, the numbers of Asians and Hispanics increased, complicating the city's historic black-white divide.
Census figures are closely watched because they will be used to redraw the state's political lines and to direct the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid. Maryland's population grew by about 9 percent since 2000, but some areas expanded much faster, and that could shift political power away from Baltimore.
The city's population declined to about 621,000, a significantly larger decrease than officials had anticipated. According to early calculations, the population declined so much relative to the rest of Maryland that the city could lose one of its six Senate seats in the coming statewide redistricting.
"We still have a lot to consider," said House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch, an East Baltimore Democrat. "We are going to look at every possible angle before we concede."
Instead, political clout could shift to places like the city of Frederick, which had a nearly 24 percent jump in residents, or to the fast-growing counties around Washington.
State law requires that Maryland's senators each represent roughly the same number of people. Ten years ago the ideal Senate district included 112,691 people. The new ideal size for each seat is 122,842 — which would give Baltimore five seats.
But Maryland still needs to adjust the census data released Wednesday to include prisoners, because a new state law requires incarcerated people to be counted at their last known address. Around six in 10 of the approximately 23,000 state prisoners are from Baltimore. The adjustment process could take until mid-March, officials say.
The new census data could also affect City Council redistricting — Rawlings-Blake had based her proposal on data that assumed a loss of just 20,000 residents.
City officials had not determined Wednesday whether the Census data would require significant changes to the proposed districts. Rawlings-Blake has pledged to amend the plans if necessary; the city charter required that the plans be submitted by Feb. 1, before the new data was available.
While the city's population slipped, area suburbs continued to expand.
Howard County grew by nearly 16 percent, fueled by a large increase in its Asian population. Growth was slower in Baltimore County — just 6.7 percent — but the county is still one of the state's most populous, with more than 800,000 people.
In the southern part of the state, St. Mary's and Charles counties recorded the fastest growth. Montgomery County, still Maryland's most populous county, added nearly 100,000 people during the decade, reaching almost a million residents.
Perhaps the most striking trend was the across-the-board jump in the numbers of minorities in Maryland. In addition to the dramatic growth of the Hispanic population, the Asian population jumped by more than 50 percent and the number of individuals identifying as members of two or more races increasing by 59 percent.
Hispanics have had a major influence in some neighborhoods — they make up 34 percent of residents in the Census tracts that make up Highlandtown, for example. That's a three-fold increase since 2000.
Our Lady of Pompei Church, at the corner or Claremont and Conklin streets in Highlandtown, must hold three Spanish Masses just to accommodate all its Hispanic parishioners, said the Rev. Luigi Cremis, the pastor there. Eight years ago, the church offered just one Spanish Mass.
But such changes have not come without tensions. A pilot bilingual weekly Mass last year was ended after six months, when it proved unpopular with both English and Spanish speakers.
"We tried to do something to unite the two things. The church was empty," he said. "These are two worlds. One does not understand the other. We talk a different language because of the culture."
Hispanics have also helped drive growth in Baltimore County. Mercados have popped up in Parkville and Towson, and Dundalk-area bakeries say Spanish-speaking employees have helped them cater to a growing base of Hispanic customers.
"The immigrant community is like any community — they want to be in a place where they can find affordable housing, where they can live in a community that will be welcoming to them and where their children can prosper in a safe neighborhood," said Elizabeth Alex, an organizer with Casa de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group. "For years, that's been the attraction of Baltimore County."
Baltimore County also has seen a significant racial shift. From 2000-2010, the number of black residents increased by nearly 60,000, while more than 40,000 whites have left.
The recession, local limits on development and the lack of empty land slowed growth in several Baltimore-area counties.
Howard County boomed in comparison to most Maryland localities. But its growth rate represented a slowdown for the prosperous county, which grew by more than 30 percent in the 1990s.
Stricter controls put in place after 2000 have slowed and delayed developments near overcrowded schools and intersections, said Jeff Bronow, a county demographic planner.
Now, central Columbia is about to embark on a 30-year redevelopment that could add thousands of new residents to the planned town, while Ellicott City remains the county's fastest-growing community.
"I think there's been a noticeable diversity that's all to the good," said Grace Kubofcik, a longtime Ellicott City resident, who is also president of the county's League of Women Voters chapter. "The Asian-American population has doubled and tripled," she said, and Hispanics and people from India and Pakistan are also more numerous.
White students became a minority for the first time in Howard's highly rated public schools this year, and officials from County Executive Ken Ulman on down frequently celebrate diversity — along with the state's highest household income and lowest unemployment rate.
In Carroll County, the population grew by about 11 percent since 2000. Just as in Howard, that was about half the growth rate of the 1990s.
"Over the last 25 years, it has been a population explosion," said Ellen Dix, a longtime Eldersburg resident and retired administrative assistant.
But the growth came with a price, sparking fears among county officials of overcrowded schools, congested roads and too few officers to police new residents, said Cynthia Parr, a deputy chief of staff in Carroll government.
In 1998 and 2004, the county adopted rules requiring infrastructure and services to meet certain thresholds before new developments could go forward — that helped slow population growth in the last 10 years, Parr said.
Dix expects growth to slow further in south Carroll, also known as the Freedom area, in coming years, simply because there are few places left to build homes.
"We had a lot of green space. That's gone. Developments, condos, everything came in," changing the flavor of the county from rural to suburban, said Dix, president of the Freedom Area Citizens Council.
Anne Arundel County's population grew by 10 percent over the past decade, though some areas, including Odenton and Glen Burnie, exploded. Odenton grew by 81 percent, and Glen Burnie by 74 percent. The towns' growth rates were among the highest in the state.
Growth along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Interstate 95 is only expected to pick up in the next few years when as many as 15,000 workers arrive in the county because of a planned federal military base realignment.
Employment and shopping opportunities were also enhanced by the Arundel Mills mall in Hanover and the National Business Park in Jessup. Both projects are on track for expansion this year — with developers set to begin construction on a slots parlor and entertainment complex at the mall and a planned expansion of the business park.
"The western part of the county has been the real engine of growth," said Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, who used federal stimulus funds to create two new bus lines last year serving the MARC train station in Odenton and the Piney Orchard development as part of a strategy emphasizing transit-oriented growth. "It's location. People want to live close to where they work."
Harford County grew by about 12 percent in the last decade, the Census Bureau reported, with significant growth in Havre de Grace and Bel Air.
Jim Richardson, director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development, estimates that about 4,000 workers have transferred to the Aberdeen Proving Ground so far as part of the recent base realignment. That's helping support the area's housing market and giving a boost to retailers, he said.
It's also putting more cars on the road. "We are seeing more traffic," he said.
Brenda Desjardins, president of New Home Marketing Services, analyzes the local real estate market for developers and builders, and said new residents brought to the area by the base realignment are attracted to areas where there are already retail centers and other amenities.
"They get off on Route 24 and they see a Target, and they see a Barnes and Noble and they see things that they're comfortable with," Desjardins said. "That makes them feel a little more at home."
Baltimore Sun reporters Larry Carson, Nicole Fuller, Raven Hill, Jamie Smith Hopkins, Annie Linskey and Julie Scharper contributed to this article.