The Destiny of Demographics (Or, What the Candidates Should Be Talking About)

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In the new issue of Texas Monthly, my colleague Michael Ennis writes about what he calls perhaps “the most important book about Texas published in years.” The book, Changing Texas: Implications of Addressing or Ignoring the Texas Challenge, is by former state demographer and current Rice University professor Steve Murdock. Ennis begins his column this way:

The average age of a non-Hispanic white woman in Texas is 42. The average age of a Hispanic woman in our state is 28. And that pretty much sums up the future of Texas.

Of course, the fact that Texas is on track to become a Hispanic-majority state around 2030 is not the concern; the issue is what the economic and work-force issues are, which is one of the main points of Murdock’s book. But you wouldn’t know that to listen to the Republican candidates on the campaign trail, who have been too busy talking in heated tones about topics that have very little impact on the future of Texas.

Sure, there’s a slice of the electorate hanging on every enthusiastic embrace of defending the 2nd Amendment or increasing border security or restricting abortion further or tightening the grip on voter fraud, but they aren’t addressing the core social and economic challenges facing Texas. As Mario Cuomo famously said one, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” By the looks of this election cycle, this crop of candidates can barely offer up a clever limerick.

 I was reminded of this when talking with Gary Scharrer last week at the Capitol. Scharrer, a veteran political reporter who served as the communications director for state senator Tommy Williams last session, is passionate about demographics, and he offered up some fascinating numbers of his own, all taken from U.S. census data. Consider, for example:

In 2000, there were 120,382 more Anglo children than Hispanic children.

In 2010, there were 995,116 more Hispanic children than Anglo children.

 The number of Anglo children has gone down by 184,486 between 2000 and 2010. The number of Hispanic children went up by 931,012 during that same period.

Between the years 2000 and 2040, the change in Anglo population is expected to be 3.9 percent. The change in Hispanic population is expected to be 78.2 percent.

 But what does that change really mean? Think about this:

When Governor Perry took office, less than half of the state’s K-12 enrollment qualified for free or reduced lunches. Today, nearly 61 percent of our enrollment does, and that number increases each year.

 If the current trend line continues, 3 out of 10 Texas workers will not have a high school diploma in the year 2040.

The average household income between the years 2000 and 2040 is expected to go down every decade, from $52,639 in 2010 to $47,883 in 2040. (Those numbers are not adjusted for inflation, so the actual dollar amount will be even worse.)

The candidates are fully aware of these figures, but they choose not to address them because they know it would be death talk in a primary. Politicians aren’t worried about what happens to the state in 25 years—they’re worried about what happens in the next election cycle.

The most important take-away is that the changes in Texas’ population can either become a crippling problem or an unprecedented social and economic asset. Ennis himself wrote about this for Texas Monthly back in 2006. The choice is simple: politicians can ignore the profound changes they know are coming in a short-term effort to protect their own standing (it made no sense to cut $200 million from pre-K programs, which is what happened in 2011, given the return on investment) or they can show some political will and imagination to invest in Texas’s future. The choice is theirs to make—but all of us will be living with the results.

( Image by Thinkstock )

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  • Blue Dogs

    Burka, they’re going risk pissing off huge voting blocs at their own peril if they ignore serious issues in Texas.

    • Vik Verma

      Burka didn’t write this one…

    • Tellnitlikeitis

      Blue Dog…I have a lot of good GOP friends. I tell them that, if they want to remain viable in the out years, they must start fighting FOR and With Latinos – and not against them. So far, I have not yet reached them.

      • Blue Dogs

        Don’t forget if the TX GOP wants to keep power in the Lone Star State, they’ll also have to reach out to African Americans and Asian Americans as well.

  • Another Wilco Voter

    If you ever have a chance to see Dr Murdock’s presentation of this topic, you won’t forget it. Yes, it’s a lot of numbers, charts, and graphs, but they spell out Texas’ future like nothing else can. If our elected officials continue to refuse to deal with this reality, well, to paraphrase, we’ll get the Texas we deserve…

  • Murdock Fan

    If you live in North Texas, Dr. Murdock will be speaking at the March 20th North Texas Commission luncheon. You can register here: http://www.ntc-dfw.org/reservations/detail.php?eventID=226

  • Pat

    The problem isn’t just Republican primary voters. A solid majority of general election voters don’t care either. Dems have run on these issues for years, and their high-water mark remains Bill Moody’s 2006 race for Supreme Court: 44.88%.

  • WUSRPH

    “Short-termism has been the distinguishing intellectual vice of the late
    twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.”
    Christopher Andrew

  • http://www.fortbendconservative.org/ John Bernard Books

    Mexico has passed legislation opening the doors to privatize Pemex, potentially making Mexico the largest oil producer in the world. When that happens where do you think they will get their workers? That’s the real news today not some democrat game of what it?

    • Blue Dogs

      Speaking of Mexico,
      You know the Chavista’s in Caracas, Venezuela are going to try to influence or infiltrate Mexican politics: heck, Pena Nieto could pull a Chavez for all we know and abolish term limits on the presidency down there and stay in power for life.
      Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua have abolished term limits on their presidents and you know Mexico IS the next one to watch if it goes the way of Chavez-like politics.

      • http://www.fortbendconservative.org/ John Bernard Books

        BD its gonna take more than you and I to drag the democrats into the 21st century. Democrats stole their first election in 1828 by passing out money for votes, using illegals to vote and destroying paper ballots. They haven’t won a statewide office in over 20 years and they’re running on republicans are evil, hate women, hate gays and are racists as the world is changing around them.
        Pemex being privatized is huge, there will be more money floating around in Mexico than the Clintons, Gore and Soros can steal in 100 years.
        Why go to America and work in the oil patch and give your money to the democrats to share the wealth when you can stay in Mexico and share the wealth with their looters?

  • WestTexan

    People should understand one other thing in the internals. The growth is not wrapped up in illegal immigration primarily but in birth rate. Harris County is the biggest Hispanic County in the state by far, including the valley, and Hispanic birthrate is where the numbers are coming from. That said, none of those folks are going anywhere except hopefully to school. Texas will be fine if we have an educated population. That is true if we are primarily anglo, hispanic, asian or finnish. We ignore this trend at our peril. Assuming the present trajectory, we are on track to becoming a third world state. Texas can do better.

    • Tellnitlikeitis

      Yes…IF we have an educated population. But the trend line is not good. All of our enrollment growth comes from low income kids. About half of the low income high school students are not on track to graduate.

      Murdock says we have to expand high quality pre K as a first step in addressing the trend line. But the GOP cut $200 million from Pre K two years ago and the state GOP platform opposes mandatory pre K AND kindergarten…..while also calling for the repeal of all federally sponsored early childhood education programs.

  • Aztec Princess

    It never ceases to amaze me how these demographic projections always omit the fastest growing segment of the US population – Asians. Maybe it’s because the ‘Asian’ label is so broad. People with origins in India, China, VietNam, Japan, Philippines, Korea, etc all put in the same category by the US census – ‘Asian’. I suppose the years I spent in California make me more aware of this than Jane/Joe American at large.

    Anyhow, I look forward to the 2040s when America will be a model for the entire world! Blacks, Whites, Asians, Native Americans, ‘Hispanics’, gay people, straight people, bi-sexual people, transgender people, atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc – all living in peace side by side…with liberty and justice for ALL! :)