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 )