Perryman: In Texas, people and jobs head to the cities

Texas is a state known for wide open spaces, and we certainly have plenty of them. Nonetheless, people and jobs are increasingly concentrated in metropolitan areas. Let’s look at some long-term trends and their implications.

Urban areas continue to see much higher levels of population and employment growth than rural areas. Patterns in jobs and business activity determine the boundaries, which are reexamined every decade.

In 2001, the Texas population was just over 21.3 million with 18.4 million (86.48%) in urban areas and about 2.9 million (13.52%) in rural areas. By 2021, the population in Texas topped 29.7 million, with the urban population increasing by 44.08% over the period to comprise 89.35% of the total. The rural population increased by only 9.82% from 2001 to 2021, totaling almost 3.2 million (10.65% of the total).

Employment similarly reveals an ongoing shift. Total employment (including employees and proprietors) was 12.3 million for Texas in 2001 with 88.71% being urban and 11.29% rural. By 2021, the urban total employment had grown by 47.08% to exceed 16.0 million which represented 91.02% of the aggregate for the state. Jobs in rural areas grew by 14.07% from 2001 to 2021 to reach 1.6 million (8.98% of the Texas total).

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This trend toward urbanization will continue. Over the period through 2050, we project that urban counties will increase by 52.74% in total employment and 43.55% in population. For rural areas, those long-term growth rates are forecast to be 44.25% and 24.27%, respectively. Amazing new technologies will dramatically change the transportation and communications processes, thus likely distributing activity more broadly within urban centers.

Clearly, the primary reason for the increasingly urban nature of Texas, as with other parts of the nation, is underlying shifts in the economy. Where job opportunities are, people will tend to reside. Without the ability for remote and hybrid work, the transition away from rural areas would be occurring even faster. The pace of this shift is, in fact, moderating somewhat, as broadband and other technologies stitch the state more closely together. However, deployment of the most advanced new systems will require population density to be economically viable.

Agriculture, oil and gas, and other industries centered in rural areas will remain a vital aspect of business activity in the state, not to mention the crucial role of Texas in providing food, clothing, and energy to the world. Viability of these crucial segments of the state (of which I am a product) will be challenging (as always), but they will endure and even prosper due to their essentiality. In fact, technology will open many new avenues for rural Texas, but will not reverse the patterns of population dynamics which have persisted for decades. Stay safe!

Dr. M. Ray Perryman is President and Chief Executive Officer of The Perryman Group (, which has served the needs of over 2,500 clients over the past four decades.