Baltimore’s population loss accelerates as Maryland’s gains slow, census estimates show

The U.S. Census Bureau’s annual population estimates have rarely brought good news for the city of Baltimore in recent years. The latest release is no exception.

The city lost 7,346 people, or 1.2% of its population, during the 12 months that ended July 1, 2018, according to census figures published Thursday.

The decline, which puts Baltimore’s estimated population as of July 1, 2018 at 602,495, is the biggest loss the city has experienced over a single year since 2001. It also marks the fourth year in a row in which the city’s population has fallen, starting in 2015.

The annual population estimates help federal programs, like Head Start and Medicaid, determine how much funding to allocate to jurisdictions.

Domestic migration was the main culprit behind Baltimore’s annual population decline, according to the estimates. Between July 2017 and July 2018, Baltimore lost more than 10,000 residents because of more people moving out of the city to other cities and counties than coming in from elsewhere in the U.S.

International migration, on the other hand, brought nearly 2,000 new residents to Baltimore from abroad, including immigrants, students and overseas military personnel. The natural increase in population, or the difference between births and deaths, was 1,037.

Components of population change in Baltimore city, Jul. 2017 to Jul. 2018

International migration (22,575) also played a major part in population growth statewide, outstripping natural population increase (19,845) and partially offsetting domestic population loss (-24,518). As a whole, Maryland added just 17,827 residents over the year, a less than 0.3% increase, bringing its population to 6,042,718.

The Census Bureau releases updated population estimates every year. Estimates for county and county-equivalents like Baltimore are extrapolated from the decennial census counts using administrative records on births, deaths and other information.

Since July 2010, Baltimore has lost more than 18,500 residents, or 3% of its population, while its neighbors have seen population gains. From July 2017 to July 2018, all counties in the Baltimore region experienced upticks in population, with the exception of Baltimore County, whose year-over-year numbers have remained flat.

Census estimates are adjusted yearly, but adjustments made after decennial censuses like the one next year— which are considered the “gold standard” for comparison, according to census demographer Amel Toukabri — can be particularly significant.

For example, in the fall of 2007, Baltimore’s population figures for 2006 were revised upward after Baltimore officials challenged the initial 2006 estimate. The new number implied a slight increase in the city’s population after a half century of decline — a “reversal of fortune” for the city, in the words of then-mayor Sheila Dixon.

But that reversal was itself reversed after the 2010 decennial census, when census officials re-examined the decade’s population estimates in light of the new population counts, turning 2006’s slight increase into a very small decline.

Several places including Baltimore turned out to have inflated population numbers when compared to the census, said Toubraki, because the Census Bureau had accepted all appeals — in almost every case, to revise population estimates upward — from local officials.

“We realized this process had to be streamlined because it wasn’t producing better estimates,” said Toubraki, who now manages the estimates challenge program.

Starting from 2013, the Census Bureau has required more specific criteria from local governments who wish to challenge their population estimates, including a “more rigorous review” of the evidence from local officials, said Toubraki. A challenge from Baltimore has not been accepted since 2008, according to the challenge program website.

Once data from next year’s census is available, the Census Bureau’s demographers use the 2020 population counts to assess the accuracy of the estimates, she said.

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