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Texas is growing – and fast. But that growth is not evenly distributed across the state.

A downtown skyline
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
The Houston downtown skyline. Harris County is among the top 10 U.S. counties with the largest numeric population growth.

Among the many reasons Texas looms in the national conscience: its explosive growth in the last several years, adding to its political weight.

Over 30 million people now call Texas home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. New population estimates covering the past year show that the state’s growth is unevenly distributed, with 158 counties gaining residents and 95 seeing a decline. Only one, San Saba County, about two hours northwest of Austin, shows no change.

Helen You, the associate director of the Texas Demographics Center, said Texas is the only state besides California that has crossed the threshold of 30 million residents.

“You’ll find that six of the top 10 U.S. counties with the largest numeric growth are in Texas: Harris, Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Bexar and Montgomery. And as you can tell, these counties are usually large urban counties in the core of the metropolitan areas,” she said. “On the other side, five other Texas counties also made it to the list of the 10 fastest-growing counties in the U.S. These counties, like Kaufman, Rockwell, Parker, Comal and Chambers, are usually suburban ring counties surrounding the core.”

You said most of this growth is driven by migration.

“In fact, in 2022, almost 50% of the growth was due to people moving from other states to Texas,” she said. “About 25% was because of people from other countries to Texas; only 25% was due to the natural increase, which was births minus deaths.”

You said another factor is where folks in Texas are moving within the state.

“Each Texas county, of course, in terms of how population changes, has its own unique patterns,” she said. “Some of the counties you mentioned really depend mostly on international migration and natural increase as their source of growth. That includes Dallas, Harris and El Paso. So the domestic out-migration we’re seeing in these counties are mostly to the surrounding counties.”

Most of the counties losing population are rural areas in West Texas, which continues the trend of urbanization the state has seen for decades. Growth numbers have significant political and economic implications, You said.

“The growth is good for the economy, especially now that we’re kind of seemingly in a tight labor market,” she said. “Studies show that migrants are usually younger, more likely to be in the labor force and more likely to be employed. And of course, it’s good for our revenue, like what we saw with the big surplus that Texas had.”

However, fast growth can also cause challenges, You said.

“The other side of the coin is the pressure that it puts on our infrastructure. Our studies have shown that median house value has increased more than household income,” she said. “And transportation, if you’re in one of the high growing areas, you don’t need to tell you how much time you spend on the road.”

For counties losing population, challenges can look like a lack of infrastructure.

“More than 90 counties in Texas, mostly in West and South Texas, have lost population,” she said. “They, of course, are facing a different challenge in terms of access to services like the Internet and health care.”

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