An influx of residents from other parts of the country drove Frederick County’s population growth from 2016 to 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 population estimates.
The 1.7 percent increase in residents — from 247,881 in 2016 to 252,022 in 2017, was the largest percentage increase among Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore city, according to the data published Thursday. It also represents the highest single-year increase Frederick County has experienced since the 2010 census.
But for local and state planners, the single-year growth spurt doesn’t hold much weight against the longer-term picture of growth. One person also questioned the accuracy of the census data, pointing to disparities between census numbers and other growth indicators for Baltimore city.
Census Bureau data provide estimates of populations of states, counties and metropolitan areas in between the decennial census surveys. The estimates are determined based on administrative records from a number of sources, including birth and death certificates provided through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, IRS tax returns, Medicare enrollment, American Community Survey information and military movement.
That Frederick County’s population grew faster than those of other counties didn’t surprise Jim Gugel, the county’s planning director. The census estimates mirrored trends in the measurements used by the county planning department to track growth.
Specifically, Gugel pointed to the number of building permits approved for new residential units as support for recent population growth. About 1,800 permits were approved in 2016 and another 1,800 in 2017, the highest in county history since before the 2008 recession, Gugel said.
Based on the timing of the increase, Gugel suspected economic recovery was, in part, a factor in the county’s growth.
Jobs, services and cost of living are primary drivers for why people move to a certain place, according to Seema Iyer, an associate director and research assistant professor for the Jacob France Institute in the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business.
Iyer also studies demographics and population estimates as part of her work in Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, a collaboration of service agencies, foundations and city government that studies Baltimore’s changing neighborhoods.
Frederick County’s location between D.C. and Baltimore makes it attractive to prospective new residents, Iyer said. That same logic could explain why neighboring Howard County saw significant population growth, claiming the No. 3 spot among Maryland counties in terms of percentage increase and numerical change, according to the data.
Migration accounted for more than half of the population change in Howard and Frederick counties — as opposed to the number of births and deaths, referred to as the “net increase.” And 73.98 percent of the 3,029 new residents who migrated to Frederick came from within the U.S. rather than international destinations, according to the data.
Asked if the single-year data set influenced county planning decisions, Gugel said no.
“From a planning perspective, one year does not a single trend make,” he said.
Gugel instead named data over a longer term, since the 2010 census, for example, as more useful for planning.
The Maryland Department of Planning also favors larger data sets in its projections, according to Alfred Sundara, the department’s projections and data center director. That said, the latest population estimates align fairly well with the state’s latest population projections, which extend through 2040.
Despite his disregard for single-year estimates, Gugel also noted that if faster growth rates continue on a year-to-year basis, that could strain the county’s pipeline for new residential development.
Growth is good, but when it’s too fast, too soon, it becomes problematic, Iyer said. She named school crowding and higher housing costs — both of which Frederick has faced — as symptoms of a rapid population increase.
Baltimore city has experienced the opposite problem. Its population decreased by 5,310 residents from 2016 to 2017, according to the census estimates. Iyer questioned the accuracy of the census collection methods, which she felt did not accurately capture migration in more urban areas.
Other indicators of growth in Baltimore, such as the number of new houses and vacancy rates, do show such a dramatic decline in population, Iyer said. She added that census estimates for Baltimore city were “fraught with errors in the past.”
The latest estimates for Baltimore city amended its prior calculations for population loss in 2016, lowering it from nearly 6,700 to 6,000, according to an article published in The Baltimore Sun. Jewel Jordan, a census spokeswoman, referred to the online explanation for data collection when asked to comment on the possible inaccuracy in an email Friday.