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Growth trends illustrative of cultural conditions

For insight into how Maryland is affected by political decisions, cultural habits and the broader economic climate, population data provide a wealth of information, according to experts.

While statewide growth is an important measure, it’s also a predictable one. Far more revealing are patterns at the county level, where the nuances of population movements are indicators of widespread conditions.

Population data aren’t often surprising, because people react to certain external conditions in expected ways, said Mark Goldstein, an economist who produces long-range demographic projections for the Maryland Department of Planning.

In a struggling economy, for instance, people tend to hold off on having children, he said. Also, counties whose average residents are older — typically more rural jurisdictions — will naturally have more deaths than births in a given year. Finally, the growth of federal jobs in certain counties (such as Harford, home to Aberdeen Proving Ground, or suburban counties with easy access to Washington, D.C., or Northern Virginia) is also a driver of population expansion.

For example, rural counties like Allegany and Caroline are losing residents, while central jurisdictions like Montgomery and Prince George’s are seeing their populations increase. This is a shift from the days that preceded the real estate bust about five years ago, after which central jurisdiction housing prices became more affordable for many who had previously been priced out of those areas, Goldstein said.

“With the housing market booming, there was lots of migration from the Central Maryland counties to the more rural and exurban counties,” he said. “And this pretty much stopped when the housing bubble burst and the economy collapsed. That’s why you’re seeing either slow growth or population declines on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland.”

One of the more significant examples of the movement back to central areas is the city of Baltimore, where population increased by 0.2 percent from 2011 to 2012, to an estimated 621,342 people, reversing more than five decades of decline.

From 2000 to 2010 — the period of the most recent census —30,193 people departed the city, a 4.6 percent decrease, according to the Census Bureau. It was the only Maryland jurisdiction to lose residents during a decade when overall state population grew by 9 percent.

“What’s significant about these numbers is that even though the city is still experiencing net domestic outmigration, that number — the net number of native-born people leaving — continues to fall,” Goldstein said. “So the city gained residents because the other sources of growth — net [births exceeding deaths] and international migration — were greater.”

Baltimore has lost households since the 1950s, Goldstein said, adding that while it’s probably too early to view the uptick in 2012 as sustained growth, things are looking up for Charm City.

“You can probably be optimistic that the city will continue to grow,” he said, adding there will likely be ups and downs for several years. “But I think the trends are pretty clear that things are improving.”

Goldstein said he doubts the increase is the result of any specific efforts to boost population. Rather, he said, the turnaround has been in the works for a while, and is probably due to broad neighborhood revitalization efforts and the return of jobs to the city.

Also notable is the past year’s growth in Montgomery County, when population surpassed 1 million people for the first time. Montgomery has long been one of the fastest-growing jurisdictions in the state, so the milestone was expected, Goldstein said.

From 2011 to 2012, Montgomery County’s population grew by 1.3 percent, second only to Howard County, which experienced 1.9 percent growth, the highest in the state. St. Mary’s County was third, with population growth of 1.2 percent.

An increase in foreign immigration (and subsequent births to those new, young families) is a major driver of population growth in certain areas. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have been capturing a disproportionate share of foreign immigration to Maryland since the 1960s and 1970s, Goldstein said. Those two counties accounted for 57 percent of the state’s international migration between 2011 and 2012.

At the same time, both counties saw net domestic out-migration — meaning more native-born people are leaving the area than are coming in, he said.

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Below is an interactive map showing which counties experienced growth, and which saw population decline in the period between 2010 and 2012. Red indicates out-migration and green indicates immigration. Click each county to see detailed population statistics.

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