Baltimore in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

The results from Census 2000 underscore the many social, demographic, and economic challenges facing the City of Baltimore and its residents.

Between 1980 and 2000, Baltimore lost 17 percent of its population. Unlike other shrinking cities, however, Baltimore lay in the core of a growing metropolitan area. This wider growth sustained the health of regional labor and housing markets, but accelerated the depletion of economic vitality in the central city. Recent estimates show that the city’s population loss has abated, suggesting the trend is not irreversible. Yet Census 2000 confirms Baltimore’s diminished standing in its region: Only a quarter of the region’s population now lives in the city, and fewer than 30 percent of metropolitan workers are employed there.

Social stress also persisted. As Baltimore’s regional economy decentralized in the 1990s, the city lost middle-class households and its poverty rate increased. Baltimore’s low median income, in this context, reflects the relatively small share of its adult population engaged in work, as well as the low levels of college education that persist among minority households. One positive trend over the decade was the increasing share of black families who owned their homes. However, insufficient market demand in many of the city’s neighborhoods may have curbed the benefits of homeownership as property values remained depressed. Baltimore, meanwhile, attracted very few new households over the latter part of the decade, and failed to benefit from significant levels of immigration that lifted population in so many other U.S. cities.

Along these lines and others, then, Baltimore in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 concludes that:

  • The Baltimore region continued to decentralize rapidly in the 1990s. Between 1980 and 2000, the City of Baltimore lost 17 percent of its population. At the same time, its suburban population grew by 35 percent. Today, only one in four residents of the Baltimore region lives in the central city, and only 29 percent of the region’s workers are employed there. Although some areas of the downtown gained citizens in the 1990s, the vast majority of city neighborhoods lost population, as did several older suburbs to the north and east of Baltimore. Families were leaving the city during the 1990s: Specifically, the number of married couples plummeted there by more than 25,000, even as their number grew in the suburbs by 35,000.

  • Baltimore remains a black-white city without significant immigration from abroad. The numbers of both blacks and whites living in Baltimore declined in the 1990s. Unlike in most U.S. cities, however, few immigrants arrived to compensate for these population losses. The city’s foreign-born population grew by just 26 percent, placing it 81st among the top 100 cities. Instead, the vast majority (89 percent) of new international immigrants in the Baltimore region settled in the suburbs, in a pattern similar to that in the Washington, D.C. area.

  • The city’s population is aging rapidly. In many of the 23 Living Cities, young professionals aged 25 to 29 represent the largest age group. In Baltimore, this distinction belongs to older Baby Boomers aged 40 to 44. What is more, Baltimore lost residents in nearly every age group during the 1990s, especially 25- to 34-year-olds, whose population dropped by nearly a third. As a result, elderly people make up a large share of households in Baltimore, greater than in all but two other Living Cities (Miami and Philadelphia).

  • Industry makeup has shifted away from manufacturing, but the workforce remains low-skilled. Thirty years ago, manufacturing accounted for approximately 20 percent of all jobs in Baltimore. Today, only 8 percent of Baltimore employees work in manufacturing. By contrast, over a quarter work in education, health, and social services professions, second only to Boston among the 23 Living Cities. Many of these jobs place a high value on the educational achievement of their workers. Unfortunately, Baltimore lags other cities—and its own suburbs—in college degree attainment among its residents. And while education levels are rising in the city, stark differences between racial/ethnic groups remain. One-third of Baltimore’s white adults have a college degree, but only 10 percent of black adults do.

  • Household incomes fell in Baltimore during the 1990s as the city lost middle-class residents. A number of U.S. cities lost middle-income families in the 1990s. Yet Baltimore stood out in the degree to which it lost these households. Middle-income and upper-middle-income households—those earning between $34,000 and $81,000 a year—declined by 17,000 in Baltimore during the 1990s. As a result, median household income in Baltimore declined over the decade by 7 percent, and now ranks 87th lowest among the top 100 cities. Thanks in part to these trends, Baltimore’s poverty rate increased in the 1990s,and nearly 40 percent of its families with children now live below or near the poverty line.

  • Homeownership increased for some groups in Baltimore, but many renters struggle to afford housing. About one-half of households in Baltimore own their own homes, more than in other Living Cities. And homeownership has been on the rise for the city’s black households, 45 percent of whom now own. The weak housing market in many of Baltimore’s inner-city neighborhoods may limit the economic benefits of homeownership, however. Rents in Baltimore declined over the decade, by an even greater percentage than household incomes. Yet even so, 51,000 Baltimore renters still pay more than 30 percent of income on rent, suggesting that most earn too little to afford the modest rents that prevail throughout much of the city.

By presenting indicators like these on the following pages, Baltimore in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 seeks to give readers a better sense of where Baltimore and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the city, its neighborhoods, and the entire Baltimore region. Living Cities and the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy hope that this information will prompt a fruitful dialogue among city and community leaders about the direction Baltimore should take in the coming decade.

Baltimore Data Book Series 1

Baltimore Data Book Series 2