The Changing Face of Texas

Demographer discusses the future population of Texas and what policy makers must do to keep the state strong

Today, non-Hispanic whites make up about half the Texas population, but already classrooms are starting to show a more diverse future.
Texas isn’t the state it used to be. Once known for its cowboys and rural areas, the state is becoming more and more urbanized. And by 2050, state demographers calculate that Hispanics will make up the majority of Texans. 
These are predictions that should begin affecting state and local priorities and policies now to avoid painful possibilities later, said Michael Cline, the associate director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University. 

Cline, who spoke during the opening general session of TAC’s County Management Institute,​ said improving educational attainment levels for all races and ethnicities and lower-income residents is one of the most important investments the state can make today to ensure it remains economically strong in the future.

Population Shift Trends: A Broad View

Texas has done a better job than most states at attracting new residents and retaining its citizens during the recent recession, Cline said. While the nation’s population rose just 9.7 percent from 2000-2010, Texas’ population rose 20.6 percent, from 20,851,820 people to 25,145,561, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

“That was one of the slowest growth periods the nation had experienced in modern times, and it was most certainly a result of the economic downturn,” Cline said. “During economic downturns, people are less willing to move unless they are guaranteed a job and they are also very conservative in terms of family planning. They are more likely to have less children.”

But the state’s attractiveness isn’t just a result of the economic downturn. Since 1850, the state’s 10-year population growth percentage has always been higher than the national population growth percentage. The state’s recent growth is the largest numeric growth experienced by any state in the last decade and the fifth-largest percentage growth, behind Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Idaho. 

During the course of the last 100 years, the national population has shifted away from the Midwest and Northeast and has grown in the South and West, Cline said, adding that political power has shifted with the population. For instance, the Mississippi Delta and the Great Plains areas have lost political capital to east and west coastal states.

Of course, numbers from the last decade show the population is rapidly shifting in Texas, too, moving away from rural areas in favor of urban areas in the center and southern portions of the state. 

In fact, 32 Texas counties have current populations that are just half the size they once were. Only 112 Texas counties had populations in 2010 that reached historic highs. That will also have political consequences.

The What, Where and Why

But populations aren’t just moving to coastal states or urban counties by chance, and other hot zones are sparking up across the state and nation. Cline analyzed several exemptions to the overarching rules and the reasons why some populations are dwindling while others are growing:

Oil and Gas Development — Oil and gas development has a strong impact on population growth and shifts, both nationally and in Texas. Nationally, North Dakota had the highest population growth rate of any state between 2010 and 2012, thanks in large part to the oil-rich Bakken Shale formation, located in the western part of the state. The number of oil wells in the formation is expected to grow for the next 15 years. Meanwhile, in Texas, counties in the Eagle Ford Shale and the Permian Basin both experienced population growth from 2010-2012 because of opportunities related to oil and gas drilling, Cline said.

Desire for Increased Density — About 75 percent of Texans now live in cities of 50,000 people or more. An additional 5 percent live in communities of 2,500 people or more. That leaves about 3.8 million Texans living in rural areas, compared to 21.3 million Texas living in suburban or urban areas. 

Cline said he expects suburban counties to continue to become more urbanized. 

In extreme cases, suburban counties, where radical growth can be planned for and accommodated, may outgrow their current major cities.

For example, Collin County, just north of Dallas, is predicted to see its population density rise from just 883 people per square mile in 2010 to a whopping 4,410.8 people per square mile by 2050. Meanwhile, Dallas County’s current population density of 2,608 people per mile — the highest current population density of all Texas counties — will increase to 3,862 people per square mile.

Similarly but not as drastically, Travis County’s current population density of 1,002 is expected to almost double to 1,978.7. But the populations of its neighboring counties are expected to quadruple: Williamson from 372 to 1,769.4 and Hays from 231 to 1,393. 

Natural Decrease and Increase — The number of births and deaths that happen in each county per year is one of the strongest factors in determining whether a population will grow or dwindle. Nationwide, about one in four counties are experiencing natural decrease, meaning that they have more deaths each year than births. From 2000-2010, 54 percent of the state’s growth was the result of natural increase, while about 46 percent was the result of people moving into the state from other areas. Of the 913,642 new Texans who joined the state in between 2010 and 2012, 52 percent were born in Texas while 48 percent came from elsewhere, Cline said.

Migration — Of the 438,119 people who migrated to Texas between 2010 and 2012, about 290,000 moved from other states. The remaining 142,000 came from other countries, Cline said. 

While domestic migration still accounts for the great majority of migration cases, Cline said the state’s foreign-born population is growing faster than expected in some areas, such as East Texas. But it’s difficult to determine why the foreign-born population is growing because the definition of foreign-born is varied: it includes everyone from senior citizens who immigrated to America as children and other legal citizens to undocumented populations. “It’s somewhat difficult to count the undocumented population because it’s obviously a population that doesn’t want to be counted,” Cline said, adding that both the Department of Homeland Security and the Pew Hispanic Center give estimates. The most recent Pew estimates are that the illegal immigrant population has been declining due to the economic downturn and difficulty of crossing the border.

The Who and How

By 2050, the population of Texas is expected to be somewhere between 41.3 million and 55.2 million people.

As a group, the Texans of 2050 are expected to be older and and less diverse than the Texans of 2010 — but not less diverse in the traditional sense. Already, the state does not have a majority racial or ethnic group: just 43 percent of Texans identified themselves as Non-Hispanic Whites in 2010, while 37.6 percent identified as Hispanic, 11.5 as African-American or black, and 4.6 percent as Asian, Indian or other. By 2050, Texas is predicted to again have a majority ethnicity: Hispanics are expected to account for 55.6 percent of the population, while non-Hispanic Whites will make up just 21.8 percent. 

The changing diversity is already being seen in schools, Cline added.

“If you want to see the future of your community, what the state will look like, go spend some time in your local schools,” he said. “They are much more diverse than they were 20, 30, 40 years ago.”

In fact, Hispanics account for 95 percent of all population growth seen among the 0-18 age bracket. Cline said the numbers of non-Hispanic white children in the state are actually decreasing. Most of the Hispanic increase and non-Hispanic decrease among children is due to birth rates rather than migration.

The median age in Texas has increased from 18.7 years old in 1900 to 33.6 in 2010. That’s younger than the national median age of 37.2. The median age is expected to continue to increase through 2050.

Thinking Ahead

The mix of an aging less-diverse population with a more diverse younger population means that policy makers have to resolve conflicts between various service needs. 

“You have a much younger population whose primary needs are things dealing with family, parks, recreation, schools,” Cline said. “You have an older population dealing with things relating to health care, different forms of recreation and living on a fixed income.”

According to the demographics, the most important thing the state can do to prepare for its future is invest in schools and education, Cline said, adding that education translates into better employment and higher wages, which return to the state via taxes. 

Currently, Hispanics are much less likely to receive a college education than non-Hispanics. Only 22.2 percent of Hispanics aged 25 and older have had some college education; only 11.6 percent have a Bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, 36.2 percent of African-Americans or blacks have some college education; 19.6 percent have at least Bachelor’s degree. Hispanics are also the population least likely to graduate from high school; 40.4 percent aged 25 and older have not received a high school diploma.

 “Education pays,” Cline said. “If you have a doctorate degree, you are less likely to be unemployed. If you had less than a high school diploma, you are more likely to be unemployed. Unfortunately, for historic and other reasons, there are gaps in educational levels between Anglos, African-Americans and Hispanics.”

The state has also seen growth in the economically disadvantaged populations for all racial and ethnic groups within the educational system, Cline said, making it even more important for the state to address the educational gaps.

“If we do not do well at improving our educational attainment levels for all different groups, our income is likely to be less than it is today. It’s going to have impacts on taxes and other things,” he said, adding that the worst-case scenario is that the state and counties will have more and more customers to serve and less and less money to do it with. “On top of (lower wages), you’ll have the Baby Boomer generation that is now in households that are exempt from any taxes, so that revenue is down. … If we do a lot to improve educational attainment for all groups, that is a better-case scenario.”