Black Residents Are Leaving Baltimore in Large Numbers, Heading to Suburbs
Abby Zimmardi and Ryan Little, Baltimore Banner, April 25, 2023
Growing up in West Baltimore, Lamar Richards remembers childhood summers playing football on the streets of Sandtown-Winchester and using the $5 his parents gave him — while scrounging for some extra change — to buy a chicken box. Life was simple then, he said.
He knew he wanted to leave the city as an adult when it felt like crime was everywhere; when people he knew went to jail or got shot and killed; when gunshots became background noise.
Richards, 27, moved out of the city in October 2021, long after he was ready to go, he said. Tired of the long commute, he finally made the jump when he was able to afford it after getting a job in Washington at the Department of Energy as a finance contractor. He moved to southern Prince George’s County.
He is among tens of thousands of Black residents who have led the decadeslong population loss in the city. Once the most loyal segment of the city, African American residents are leading the migration out. While they still make up the majority of the population at 57% of all residents, they are also moving out the fastest.
The city has lost more Black residents than white residents with about 57,000 Black residents leaving between 2010 and 2020, according to a Baltimore Banner analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. That was more than double the drop in white residents. Growth in the Hispanic, Asian and multiracial populations offset losses in the Black and white population.
Black residents said they are leaving the city because of too few job opportunities and investments in majority-Black neighborhoods, while white neighborhoods such as Canton and Harbor Point have enjoyed new apartment buildings, retail centers, offices and growing populations. Black residents said they have found a better quality of life in neighboring counties, or other states, where they are also finding that they can pay less for the same, if not better, amenities. People also said they left because of persistent crime and better educational opportunities.
In Baltimore County, population growth during that same period was driven mostly by new Black residents, The Banner’s analysis found. An increase of about 46,000 Black residents accounted for most of the 50,000 person increase countywide, and the Black population grew faster than the area as a whole in 15 regional planning districts.
Richards grew up in Sandtown-Winchester, one of the majority-Black neighborhoods where the population declined — by 28%, according to the Baltimore Banner analysis.
Majority-white neighborhoods, such as Locust Point or Roland Park, had less of a population decline — and, in some cases, a population increase. In Locust Point, a neighborhood in South Baltimore with several new residential developments, the total population increased by 43%, and in Roland Park the population increased by about 1%. Although by a small number, the Black population also increased in both neighborhoods.
Citywide, the Black population increased in most majority-white neighborhoods while it fell in 94% of majority-Black neighborhoods, another indication people were escaping the neglect of Black neighborhoods even when they stay in the city.
More recent population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau say both the city and the county lost residents in 2021 and in 2022, though demographic data was not made available in the March release.
Lawrence T. Brown, a Morgan State University research scientist at the Center for Urban Health Equity, coined the term “Black Butterfly” in 2015 to describe the cluster of majority-Black neighborhoods on a map because they fan out like wings of a butterfly.
Brown thinks there are three main drivers of the Black population decline, including high death rate from homicides, diseases and overdoses, which are outnumbering the birth rate and people who are moving into Black neighborhoods. There is also a reverse migration of Black people returning to the South, where the cost of living is lower, generations after their ancestors left.
Brown said there is a general sentiment those leaving feel: “Simply that Black neighborhoods don’t matter.”
Decades of redlining and lack of investments into Black neighborhoods have contributed to hypersegregated neighborhoods, mass population decline and feelings of unwelcomeness, he said.
“It’s like a backdoor push out,” Brown said. “Like we’re not welcoming you, so, if people don’t feel welcome, they’re going to try to go someplace where they feel more welcomed.”
Cost of living is one of the main reasons Ashley Burton, her husband and three children are planning to move to York, Pennsylvania, in June.
“The house that we’re getting built there, we’d be paying close to maybe half a million dollars here for that same house,” Burton said.
Burton’s new home is 3,200 square feet, with four bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, which is more than double the size of her Baltimore home.
Not only is Burton moving for financial reasons, including high property taxes and water bills on her Baltimore home, but she also wants to feel safer and know that her children are safe in school.
Burton, who has lived in Chinquapin Park in Northeast Baltimore for 37 years, recently attended one of her son’s basketball games, which was interrupted because someone on school property had a handgun.
“That alone is terrifying enough that there’s something at elementary-, middle-school level where those kinds of things are occurring,” Burton said. “So as much as we try to shelter our kids, or think we’re protecting them, you just can’t. I think with us moving to York and a more rural and remote area, I feel more at peace with safety concerns that we have here in the city.”
The population decline has a wide-ranging impact on communities. Schools close when there are no longer enough students living in the neighborhood. Neighborhood churches fill with people who no longer live in the city, or they follow their congregants to the county. There is less of a tax base to go toward public safety, trash pickup and school and other basic city services.
Baltimore City Public Schools closed 26 schools — or 16% of all the city’s schools — since 2012 because of population decline, according to Baltimore City Surplus Schools. In the 1960s, Baltimore’s school enrollment was 200,000 and has since declined to 84,000 students — a 58% decrease. The closures include Dr. Rayner Browne, a school in Biddle Street, a majority-Black neighborhood that had an overall population decline of about 20% and the Black population declined by 25%.
Donte Hickman, pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Broadway East, said that his ministry combatted the decline in creative ways and was able to sustain and grow the congregation, never seeing a decline in church participation. But that wasn’t the case for many churches.
“What we did to mitigate against it [population decline], was instead of taking our church out of the city, we invested in multiple site locations, where we have a presence in Harford County, in Howard County, we’ve been in Anne Arundel County,” Hickman said. “But never losing our anchor church in East Baltimore, so we can be not far from where you are.”
Other churches weren’t able to meet people outside of the city. Kevin Slayton, senior pastor at New Waverly United Methodist Church in Northeast Baltimore, said that his congregation has had a steady decline in participation, not only because of people moving away from the city, but because fewer people consider themselves religious.
Without church participation, Slayton said people are less involved in the community, and as attendance declines, churches become vacant and could become the next reinvestment project for developers.
The smaller tax base that comes with population decline means there is less wealth going back into the community, said Brett Theodos, a senior researcher at The Urban Institute.