Photovia 3sonsproductions/Flickr

Baltimore City is bleeding residents, according to new U.S. Census figures released today.

Nearly 8,700 people left Baltimore between July 2014 and July 2016, reversing three years of modest population growth. The data suggest residents recently began to flee in droves after the widespread unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in police custody and a subsequent surge in violent crime.

Many will remember a pledge by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in her 2012 “State of the City” address to grow the city’s population by 10,000 families in the next 10 years. According to the newest figures, she wasn’t even close to that target (though if you were to switch out “families” for “residents,” she may have been on track). From 2011 to 2014, the population grew by 2,538 residents, or by about 0.4 percent.

However, things took a turn after July 2014. After rising to more than 623,000, the population fell by almost 2,000 in the next 12 months, which included Gray’s death, the ensuing uprising and a jump in homicides. The population then plummeted by more than 6,700 in the next year, which left the city with just shy of 615,000 dwellers in July 2016 — slightly more than the number of people who lived here 106 years ago.

Data via U.S. Census Bureau

Baltimore’s declining population is an oft-used talking point. Just two nights ago, it made it into a heated televised debate about immigration between Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson and Councilman Zeke Cohen. Even as the city has welcomed tens of thousands of immigrants in the last couple decades, far more residents have continued to leave.

In broader context, these losses are part of a more than half-century-long population decline for the city. The bulk of that happened between 1950 and 1980, when the number fell from 950,000 to roughly 787,000 as white families fled for the suburbs amid racial integration and an expansion of the U.S. highway system. However, the bleed has continued over the last 35 years as Baltimore has grappled with high rates of drug-related violent crime and, for many years, nascent development.

The recent news will come as a blow to the Pugh administration, which in its recent transition report noted that “for the first time in decades, the residential population in Baltimore City is showing signs of net growth.” Mayor Pugh’s team had already said they needed to “address…areas of concern” for potential incoming businesses, such as doubts related to the city’s infrastructure, negative reputation and retail investment climate, and that was before the news of the recent population drop.

As a whole, Maryland gained roughly 21,400 residents in the last year, according to the new Census figures. Baltimore County gained about 1,800 people, and Harford and Anne Arundel counties gained about 1,000 and 4,500, respectively.

Washington D.C., a city generally considered to be similar in population size to Baltimore, rose from 670,000 to almost 682,000 residents.

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...