|WACO, April 18 - The population of Texas is changing. Over the past decade, we added more new residents than any other state, including California (despite its substantially larger population).
In fact, Texas’ rate of population change over that decade (20.6 percent) was more than double that of the Golden State (10.0 percent). Part of the expansion is due to relatively stronger economic conditions and people coming here seeking jobs (some even from California, of course). Texas’ natural rate of expansion is also a contributing factor, with higher birth rates than in many parts of the United States.
Growth has been very uneven, with much of Texas actually losing population. Between 2000 and 2010, census data shows that population in most of the western half of the state either barely grew or declined, and almost a third of the state’s counties have fewer residents now than they did in the past. Gains were concentrated in the state’s largest cities, the rest of the I-35 corridor from north of Dallas/Fort Worth to San Antonio, and much of the border region (from Laredo southward). We are becoming more urban, as our mobile society seeks the opportunities available in large population centers.
The racial and ethnic composition of Texas is also shifting. Over the 2000-2010 decade, the Non-Hispanic White population rose from 10.9 million to 11.4 million (a rise of less than 500,000), while the number of Hispanics (of all races) increased from 6.7 million to 9.5 million (a gain of 2.8 million). The Non-Hispanic Black population rose by about 523,000, while the Non-Hispanic Asian population jumped 394,000. The state’s largest population group (Non-Hispanic Whites) experienced the slowest rate of increase, while other groups (most notably Hispanics of all races) expanded much faster.
Differences among racial/ethnic groups persist. For example, income levels vary markedly, with Asians at the top followed by Non-Hispanic Whites, with Hispanics and Blacks significantly lower. A primary reason for this disparity is educational attainment, with more than 40 percent of Hispanics age 25 or over in 2010 having less than high school levels of education. Again, Asians top the educational attainment scale, with Non-Hispanic Whites second. Another contributing factor could be the relative ages of householders, as people tend to move upward through income levels through their working lives.
Public schools will face growing student populations (including economically disadvantaged groups) and an increased need for programs to deal with issues such as limited English proficiency. The cost of providing quality education will rise, putting pressure on already tight budgets. Of course, the productive capacity of the state’s population and business complex will also grow (assuming the proper investments in education and infrastructure are made), with property tax bases and available funds also expanding.
Looking ahead, it is clear that education fitted to the state’s population and workforce needs is essential to prevent the standard of living from falling. If the fast-growing Hispanic population is poorly prepared for the job market of the future, individuals, the business complex, and the state as a whole will be less able to continue to achieve financial stability and prosperity. Matching available education and training to future workforce needs is essential. While education has value in and of itself and a high school diploma involves essential basic knowledge, the primary function of college or other training is preparation to earn a living across a number of fields where higher education is essential for job performance. Few can afford to study purely for the sake of self improvement, and many of our various post-high school options should be carefully matched to both the incoming student population groups and the potential for future employment.
Restructuring (not just tweaking, but meaningfully restructuring) major programs including Medicaid and Social Security will be essential. Longer lifespans and the aging of the large baby boom generation will put pressure on these systems beyond what can be effectively borne under the current construct. To become sustainable, these and other large social programs must have more equitable and sustainable methods of funding. Solutions will not be easy, but they are essential to the long-term viability of these important safety nets.
Looking back about 40 years (to 1970), the population of Texas stood at almost 11.2 million, up from 5.8 million in 1930, a gain of 93 percent. From 1970 to 2010, the population more than doubled (to 25.1 million). Depending on the assumed rate of people moving into the state, by 2050, the number of Texans could again double. In essence, we’re continuing a longstanding trend. While someone looking at a projection of current population back in the 1970s might have been struck by how unmanageable dealing with the additional people would seem, adjustments happen incrementally and growth is dealt with a little at a time.
Similarly, envisioning Texas twice the population size by 2050 is no reason for concern in and of itself. We’ll deal with the additional infrastructure needs over time, and the economic growth possible with such a potential workforce is more than enough to foot the bill. Even so, it is important to be aware that the dynamics are changing, particularly with regard to racial/ethnic composition. Taking a long-term perspective and improving our path as a society can pay off in numerous ways including higher incomes, better quality jobs, improved education, and much more.
Dr. M. Ray Perryman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Perryman Group (www.perrymangroup.com). He also serves as Institute Distinguished Professor of Economic Theory and Method at the International Institute for Advanced Studies.