Demographer: Education key to Texas’ economic future

A. Lee Graham

The future of Texas’ economic prosperity could rest with Hispanics, a forecast that has its author beating the drum for education. “Education pays, and in fact, it pays for everybody and pays across occupational groups,” said Steve Murdock, former U.S. Census Bureau director whose latest research appears in his book, Changing Texas: Implications of Addressing or Ignoring the Texas Challenge.

Speaking at a March 20 luncheon sponsored by the North Texas Commission, Murdock envisioned a future in which a growing Hispanic population and shrinking non-Hispanic white population will yield fewer individuals able to fill managerial and professional jobs. That could have dire consequences for state employment, not to mention the Texas economy, he said. “Education is the single best predictor of socioeconomic progress. I don’t care what side of the [political] aisle you are on; both sides find education is really everything,” Murdock said.

And he should know. As director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University, Murdock and his research team pored over shifting demographics before forecasting what they consider dire consequences if more is not done to educate a rising Hispanic population. Illustrating his point were some startling statistics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, numbers of non-Hispanic white children younger than 18 in Texas dropped more than 180,000 between 2000 and 2010. In the same period, numbers of Hispanic children rose more than 900,000. With 40.4 percent of Texas Hispanics older than 25 lacking a high school diploma or GED, and 8 percent of non-Hispanic whites having such designation, more numbers of Hispanics with the education to fill managerial and professional positions will be needed to fill future positions, according to the forecast.

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While Hispanic households are expected to outnumber non-Hispanic white households two to one by 2050, they will lack the income to purchase homes, cars and other high-dollar items, resulting in more impoverished Texas families. That 2050 forecast makes its comparison to 2010. Meanwhile, non-Hispanic whites are expected to supply less than 2 percent of the state’s population growth in coming years, while Hispanics will provide about 70 percent. That puts more pressure on younger Hispanics to fill positions of retiring non-Hispanic whites, yet the former population group is expected to lack the education to do so. Heightening the urgency is Texas’ population explosion. With 1.3 million more residents, or 5.2 percent, added to the state population between 2010 and 2013, Texas leads the nation in the largest population increase between those years, according to U.S. Census data. California growth trails a distant second place, with 1 million more residents, or 2.9 percent, added in the same time span. Murdock hammered home what he considers the importance that Hispanics already play in growing the state population. “If it were not for Hispanic children, we would have had one of the largest declines in child population in U.S. history,” Murdock said.