WASHINGTON – The vast majority of Baltimore residents who fled the city during the 1990s were not retiring to Florida or moving out of the region — most were moving to the close-in suburbs and taking much-needed income with them.
A Capital News Service analysis of county-to-county migration data from the Internal Revenue Service showed that more than 360,000 city residents moved out of the city in the 1990s and almost 270,000 moved in.
The data also showed that those who left earned about $3,000 more, on average, than those moving in.
The numbers are based on IRS reports that track where returns are filed from one year to the next and on the adjusted gross income reported on those returns. Population estimates are based on the numbers of exemptions claimed.
Of those who moved out, more than 250,000 landed in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard or Harford counties, according to the IRS.
Gloria Griffin, division manager of Baltimore’s strategic planning division, said she was not surprised by the shift to those suburbs, which often have better schools, lower taxes and less crime. City residents are going to Baltimore County for better schools, she said, and Harford County for cheaper land and housing prices.
Griffin said that she sees the population losses as both good and bad news. It is an opportunity to redevelop existing blocks of older or vacant housing, said Griffin, who also hopes that planned economic development could bring middle income residents back to the city.
Griffin said the exodus opens the door to replacing row houses and “big, huge clunkers” that are too expensive to maintain with more appealing units.
“I think in the next 10 to 20 years, Baltimore City is really going to turn around . . . if we can get rid of the preservationists,” she said.
Baltimore County gained the most of the suburban counties, with a net gain of 60,000 residents from the city. About 5,000 residents wound up in Anne Arundel County and 4,000 in Carroll County during the decade.
The northern suburbs also came out ahead in a comparison of incomes going to and from the city. Transplants to Carroll County earned about $10,000 more than county residents going to Baltimore, for example, and in Harford County, there was more than an $8,000 difference.
York County, Pa., was the sixth-most popular destination for city residents and also the greatest beneficiary of the income differential in the migration. The county had a net population gain of about 2,700 residents, and those who left Baltimore earned about $12,000 per year more than those who went the other way.
Officials in the receiving counties agreed with Griffin that the exodus is being driven by quality-of-life issues like schools, taxes and crime. But Carroll County planner Darrell Davidson said that can work both ways.
Davidson, a lifelong Carroll resident, understands the lure of city and admitted to “a little fascination with the city and city life” among residents of the suburban county. Many of the more than 2,000 county residents who left for the city during the decade were single or were looking for better jobs, Davidson said.
But many may have moved back to the county to raise children or live more safely or cheaply.
“Once you have your kids, you move back,” he said.
Davidson also acknowledged the likelihood of a racial element to the population shifts. He said reports of “white flight” to the county are “probably true” as Carroll gains residents from both the city and other counties. Census data released last week showed that Carroll County added 25,000 white residents in the last decade and only 500 blacks.
Daniel Rooney has seen both sides of the residential flight from the city: The former city resident now lives in southern York County and works as an administrator at the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning.
He attributes the influx of city residents to the price of housing, better schools, the lower crime rate and a “different sense of community.”
Griffin, the city planner, remains optimistic, even in the face of a decade of losses.
“I don’t look at the exodus as being very, very bad. I look at it as providing opportunity,” she said.