People of color make up 95% of Texas’ population growth, and cities and suburbs are booming, 2020 census shows

The Houston skyline on Dec. 17, 2018.

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Setting the stage for what is expected to be a bruising battle over political representation, the results of the 2020 census released Thursday showed that Texas’ explosive growth over the past decade was again powered by people of color.

And it is the state’s cities and suburbs that are booming, with Texas home to three of the country’s 10 largest cities and four of the fastest-growing.

Texas gained the most residents of any state since 2010, and its Hispanic population is now nearly as large as the non-Hispanic white population, with just half a percentage point separating them. Texas gained nearly 11 Hispanic residents for every additional white resident since 2010.

Texans of color accounted for 95% of the state’s population growth. The 2020 census puts the state’s population at 29,145,505 — a 16% jump from 25.1 million in 2010. Hispanic Texans were responsible for half of that increase.

Non-Hispanic white Texans now make up just 39.8% of the state’s population — down from 45% in 2010. Meanwhile, the share of Hispanic Texans has grown to 39.3%.

The Hispanic population’s approach to becoming Texas’ largest demographic group marks a significant milestone ahead of this year’s redistricting, during which state lawmakers will draw new political maps divvying up seats in Congress and the state House and Senate in what will no doubt be an intense and protracted fight over political control of the state for the next decade.

Texas Republicans hold every lever of power to try to lock in or even expand their majorities at the state Capitol and in Congress. But they will be working to redraw the state’s political maps while confronting the demographic reality that the state is growing in ways that put the party’s stranglehold in question.

Hispanic leaders will surely point to the growth to lobby for increased political control and representation, particularly as lawmakers consider how to draw the two additional congressional seats — the most gained by any state — Texas earned because of its fast growth.

The sluggish growth among white Texans could also complicate Republican efforts to cement their power, which relies on a political base much more likely to be white and rural.

The state’s Hispanic, Black and Asian populations all significantly outgrew the white population since 2010. The white population growth — an increase of just 187,252 — was swamped by the total growth among Asian Texans, who make up a tiny share of the total population but have seen their numbers grow at the fastest pace in the state. The state’s Asian population grew by 613,092 since 2010.

The Hispanic population saw the biggest growth, with nearly 2 million additional Hispanic people now calling Texas home.

The state’s growth has been concentrated in diverse urban centers that serve as Democratic strongholds and suburban communities, several of which have either already turned blue or are trending in that direction. Since 2010, 44% of the state’s growth took place in its five largest counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis. All 10 of the state’s fastest-growing counties in the last decade were suburban.

Hays County — between Austin and San Antonio — experienced the most growth, doubling its population in the last decade.

Over the last two decades, the GOP has maintained its power by drawing political maps at the expense of voters of color. During the last round of redistricting, federal courts found that Texas lawmakers discriminated against Hispanic and Black voters in particular. The Legislature’s Republican majority was reprimanded by federal judges for intentionally diluting the power of their votes; their maps after the 2010 census flunked both the U.S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

The growth driven by people of color easily surpassed the growth captured in the 2010 census, which showed people of color accounted for 89% of the total increase in population that decade.

This time, though, the GOP will be working in a more favorable legal landscape.

The 2021 round of political mapmaking will be the first in nearly half a century without federal oversight that previously helped shield voters of color living in states with a long history of discrimination, like Texas, from being robbed of political clout through gerrymandering.

Congress has worked slowly in its bid to revive some of those protections by restoring preclearance, which required the state to submit any changes to its elections and maps for federal review to ensure they would not harm voters of color. The U.S. Supreme Court knocked down that requirement, a lynchpin of the Voting Rights Act, in 2013. This year, the court also continued to whittle away at other portions of the act used to challenge discriminatory districts.

Congressional and state House and Senate districts must be reconfigured ahead of the 2022 elections to account for the state’s population growth and to even out residents across districts that were drawn to be close to equal in population a decade ago but are now significantly out of balance.

But that work is running well behind schedule, largely because of pandemic-induced delays of the census. With Thursday’s release, the Legislature’s number-crunchers will begin processing the massive set of data released by the Census Bureau — down to the block level — to upload it into the system lawmakers will use.

But the actual work of drafting maps, wrangling the numbers that represent communities and neighborhoods, might not begin until next month.

On Thursday, state Rep. Todd Hunter, the Corpus Christi Republican who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, told his colleagues to expect the data to be ready for them by Sept. 1.

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