Although Texas is becoming more diverse, county-level trends vary

Rural counties could lose representation

By Tim Brown

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The Texas Legislature passed in October new boundaries for congressional, Texas House, Texas Senate and State Board of Education districts based on population changes seen from the 2020 census. We delve deeper in the data that lawmakers were faced with to develop the maps.

On the surface, previous trends in the state’s demographics continued. Statewide, the total population continued to increase as did the Hispanic share of the population.

The 2020 census counted 29.1 million Texans. Of those, 11.6 million (39.9%) were white. Hispanics, of any race or combination of races, numbered 11.4 million (39.2%). While it had been estimated that the Hispanic population would overtake the white population as early as 2020, more recent predictions have the Hispanic population becoming the majority in 2022.

While the state is growing, the growth is unevenly distributed and largely concentrated in more populous counties. Fifty-six percent of Texas counties saw a decline in population between 2010 and 2020.

Many rural counties continue to see a decline in their population while the larger metropolitan areas boom, as seen in Map 1, which shows the percentage change from 2010 to 2020 by county. Most counties in West Texas saw their numbers decline. Many of them experienced population losses exceeding 10%. The counties near the southeast corner of New Mexico most likely had population increases due to the petroleum industry — reports from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas indicate an increase in the number of rigs in some of those counties and increased oilfield employment for the broader Permian Basin area.

Excluding Hispanic population changes creates a very different picture of growth within the state. As seen in Map 2, many counties in West Texas experienced even greater losses in their non-Hispanic population than in their total population. Conversely, many counties near the international border had significant increases in their non-Hispanic population, particularly those around Webb County and in Hudspeth County in far West Texas. While the areas around Laredo and El Paso had significant growth in this population segment, counties around Austin-San Antonio, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston had less growth among non‑Hispanics than among their total population.

Map 3 looks at the changing non-Hispanic, white alone population. Relatively few counties saw a significant increase in this segment of their population. Of our 254 counties, 112 had a decrease in the white population of at least 10% while only 24 counties saw an increase in the white population by at least 10%. While this population segment continued to grow in most of the counties around major urban areas, it declined in both Dallas County and El Paso County as well as in most of the counties in the Permian Basin.

In addition to information on the number of people of all ages, the data includes information on the number of people who are of voting age (18+), as shown in Map 4. While similar to Map 1, there are some differences to note, including how Hudspeth County, which had a decrease in total population, had an increase in the population that is of voting age. Also note how all the counties in the Rio Grande Valley show a significant increase in the voting age population, and only one, Hidalgo, had a significant increase in total population.

Map 5 reveals the change in voting age population for the Hispanic community. The Hispanic voting-age population increased in 203 counties — the increase was greater than 10% in 172 counties. Map 6 stands in stark contrast to Map 5, showing the change in voting age population of the non-Hispanic population, which increased by more than 10% in only 50 counties. There were decreases of at least 10% in 62 counties.

Then, in Map 7, we see that the growth in voting age population for the white population exceeded 10% in only 30 counties while declining by 10% or more in 92 counties.

Although not represented on these pages, population gains for other races indicate that Texas is becoming more racially diverse. It is also clear that the voting power of whites is declining. In addition, redistricting will result in reduced representation for rural Texas counties just as their numbers declined relative to the urban areas.

Note on race and ethnicity

The U.S. Census Bureau follows federal guidelines that define race and ethnicity. Generally, most people easily understand the terms regarding race even when shortened, as in this article, for readability. However, ethnicity confuses many people. Ethnicity refers to whether or not a person is a member of a certain cultural heritage — such as the Hispanic culture. Therefore, according to the federal government, one can be of any race (or combination of races) and be either Hispanic or non-Hispanic. Consequently, on the 2020 census form, there is one question for race (choose all that apply) and a separate question for ethnicity (Hispanic or not Hispanic). See this page for more information on how the bureau is categorizing race and ethnicity data for the 2020 census.