KEY POINTS

  • Baltimore reached an all-time peak in population of about 950,000 in 1950.
  • In 2019, Baltimore recorded 338 murders.
  • Baltimore has at least 17,000 empty homes

The population of Baltimore, Maryland dropped below the 600,000 level for first time in more than a century last year.

Baltimore had a population of 593,490 as of July 2019 – the lowest figure since 1910 when it had 558,485 residents (including a 15-year old boy named George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth).

The city reached an all-time peak in population of about 950,000 in 1950.

Since 2010, Baltimore has lost more than 27,000 residents.

Experts cite that Baltimore is losing residents for three principal reasons: its high property tax rates, poor schools and high crime rates.

In 2019, Baltimore city had a total listed tax rate of 2.248%, one of the highest such rates in Maryland.

Last year, Baltimore recorded 338 murders, the highest per-capita homicide rate ever recorded in the city. In comparison, New York, which has about 13 times the population of Baltimore, recorded a similar number of killings.

Baltimore also had a very high poverty rate of 21.8% in 2018 (almost double the national average), although that figure fell from a recent peak of 24.2% in 2014.

“I would say people might be fearful of the crime rate rising in some areas,” said Baltimore resident Jenny Haber. “We’ve had high up authority figures comment on Baltimore being a dangerous city, so that can definitely influence people.”

Baltimore received unwanted national notoriety last summer when President Donald Trump condemned parts of the city as a “disgusting ... rodent infested mess” and criticized the late local congressman Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Baltimore’s image was also tarnished by the 2015 death of a young black man named Freddie Gray under police custody and the subsequent civil unrest it unleashed.

Now Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is trying to help local residents and revitalize neighborhoods by reviving a policy from the 1970s called the “Dollar House” program.

Under that program, former mayor William Donald Schaefer sold rundown or vacant or boarded up homes literally for $1 and then helped to finance rehabilitation of the properties via low-interest loans as long as the new owners lived onsite for a specified period of time.

“I had calls and emails from all over the United States, people wanting to come back to Baltimore to be a part of that effort,” Clarke said.

Baltimore has at least 17,000 empty homes which blight neighborhoods.

But Clarke says the city also has to do much more for its youth.

“We have to keep working to keep our young people [with] something positive to do and a future to look forward to,” she said.

As Baltimore City continues to lose population, its nearby counties (Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County and Howard County) have all gained population over the last decade by varying degrees.

Seema Iyer, who oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute, thinks the city should do whatever it can to attract new residents.

“We need that message to be very clear in the leadership -- that we want people to move into the city of Baltimore, that we want them to be part of the city,” Iyer said, citing affordable housing and a good transit system as among the most important enticements.

Not even immigration can stem the city’s declining population, although new arrivals, particularly from Jamaica, China, Mexico and Trinidad, may have limited the overall losses.

“The immigrant community has really stabilized Southeast Baltimore,” said Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen.

Despite its many woes, Baltimore still offers some attractive features for immigrants.

“We as a city are very intentional about providing services for immigrants,” said Catalina Rodriguez Lima, the director of the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “In Baltimore you can still buy a house; in Baltimore your kid can go to school and have [English language instruction]; in Baltimore you can open a business and have access to microlending.”

Still Baltimore City fails to attract immigrants the way its neighboring counties do given that Baltimore has also seen its construction and manufacturing industries wither away.

“[Baltimore] just never had a magnet to attract a new wave of immigrants,” said Randy Capps, a demographer at the Migration Policy Institute.

Iyer also noted that since 2015, the number of immigrants arriving in Baltimore has plunged by 42%.

"Since 2015 the Census Bureau is estimating, we keep losing 6,000 to 8,000 people every year," Iyer said. "We are not getting nearly as much international immigration as we had in the past. So that is a big difference in the past few years. There are a lot of federal policies that have affected immigration, travel restrictions that have been put in place, and that is clearly impacting the city of Baltimore."

Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said the falling population makes it even more critical for the city to obtain an accurate Census count for 2020.

"During a time of great challenge, federal funding tied to Census numbers are helping our city feed vulnerable children and seniors,” he said. “We know that every dollar is needed and that we'll only get our fair share with a complete Census count."

Mary Miller, a former U.S. Treasury Department official who is seeking to become Baltimore’s next mayor, said: "Long-term population loss is lowering the city's income, property tax revenue and federal aid… As mayor, I would promote a 'Live and Work in Baltimore' campaign. Too many of our jobs in the city are held by people who live outside the city limits. The city can be much more hospitable to growth and create opportunity for Baltimore residents to hold jobs right here in the city."

Another mayoral candidate, Thiru Vignarajah, a former Deputy Attorney General of Maryland, stated: "We can't expect people to come to Baltimore or raise a family here so long as our defining narrative is that families have to pay twice as much in taxes for their children to have a higher chance of getting shot on the way to broken schools with no heat or air conditioning. No wonder families and businesses are leaving each year in the thousands. To change that perception, we have to change Baltimore’s reality. That means cutting property taxes in half, fully funding Kirwan [Commission on education reform], and ending the bloodshed."

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