Austin is evolving as a city and as an urban area.  Its point along a trajectory of growth and demographic change can be located and described by outlining several large-scale phenomena of urbanization.  This list of The Top Ten Big Demographic Trends will attempt to answer these questions:  Where have we just come from, where are we now, and where are we going as a City?  Demographically speaking that is.

The theme of ethnic change and diversification is a common one throughout the Top Ten, and yet each point addressing the issue highlights a particular aspect of ethnic change significant in its own right.  In one way or another, the trends discussed below are inherently intertwined with one another—each force exerting its own push or pull on the collective, synergistic direction of the City’s demographic path.

The Top Ten:

1.  No majority

The City of Austin has now crossed the threshold of becoming a Majority-Minority city.  Put another way, no ethnic or demographic group exists as a majority of the City’s population.  The City’s Anglo (non-Hispanic White) share of total population has dropped below 50% (which probably occurred sometime during 2005) and will stay there for the foreseeable future.  Please see graph.

It’s not that there hasn’t been absolute growth in the total number of Anglo households in Austin but rather it’s because the growth of other ethnic and racial groups has outpaced the growth of Anglo households.  For example, the growth rate of Latino and Asian households far exceeds the growth of Anglo households in Austin. 

And yet, what used to resemble a seemingly inexorable path toward greater and greater ethnic and racial diversification within the City is becoming less certain.  The brakes have been thrown on the City’s rate of diversification--due mostly to housing prices inside the urban core which have spiked--with no apparent end in sight to the increases.  Here are two maps for Austin area ZIP Codes that show the steep increases in housing prices that were experienced from 2010 to 2015.  The first map shows the absolute or total increase in the median sales price of all for-sale residential product whilst the second map shows the percentage increase.

Clearly, in the first map showing total price increase the set of western ZIP Codes anchored by Tarrytown and West Lake Hills comes screaming off the map whereas when percentage increase is mapped a very different set of eastern based ZIP Codes emerges.  And although these price trends occurred between 2010 and 2015, the demographic manifestations of a much more expensive central city were already becoming evident toward the end of the last decade as shown by this cartographic examination of Census 2010 and Census 2000 tract-level data, here’s the map.

The Whitening of the urban core is indeed striking.  Almost all of central east Austin and vast stretches of south central Austin became Whiter during the decade.  So what’s happened since 2010?  More than likely, we’ve experienced a continuation and even a possible acceleration of this trend.  We really won’t know until we can map Census 2020 data.  Annual tract-level population data updates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey come freighted with such large margins-of-error that it’s difficult to determine what exactly is happening demographically within neighborhoods across the City.

2. Decreasing families-with-children share in the urban core

The share of all households within the city’s urban core made-up of families-with-children is slowly declining.  In 1970, the urban core’s families-with-children share was just above 32%, Census 2000 puts the figure at not quite 14%.  Moreover, with only a few neighborhood exceptions, the urban core is also becoming almost devoid of married-with-children households, please see this Concentrations of Married with Children households map from Census 2000 and then this map that uses Census 2010 data.

Citywide, the trends have been similar in that the overall number of families-with-children has increased while the share of total households from families-with-children has decreased.  This relative loss of families-with-children households has significant implications for the city’s several school districts, but AISD will feel the greatest brunt of the effect. 

Here’s the rub: the absolute number of children in the city is going up, while their share of total population is declining. This paradox is further exacerbated by the fact that in absolute terms the demand for services will increase as the share of families that remain within the city will become, in relative terms at least, increasingly poor because of who’s left and who’s moving in.  School systems and health care providers will have a hard time managing the increasing absolute need in light of this loss in share.

Although there will continue to be pockets and neighborhoods with high concentrations of affluent families in Austin, it has been middle class families that are becoming increasingly less common within the urban core.  Without a sizable share of middle class families to stabilize the urban core, working class families suffer because the rung above them on the socio-economic ladder has been removed, making it more difficult for them to achieve upward social mobility. 

3. African American share on the wane

The city’s African American share of total population will more than likely continue its shallow slide even as the absolute number of African Americans in the city continues to increase.  The import of this decrease in share should not be underestimated as just a few decades ago African Americans made-up around 15% of the city’s population and just a few decades from now African Americans could represent a mere 5% of the city’s population and constitute the smallest minority group in the city.

4. Hispanic share of total population

Will it ever surpass the Anglo share?  Maybe not, but they’ll be close to each other in a short 25 years.  You just can’t say enough about how strong Hispanic growth has been.  The city’s Hispanic share in 1990 was under 23%, the Census 2000 figure was almost 31%, and this share of total is probably around 35% today.

Importantly, the city’s stream of incoming Hispanic households is socio-economically diverse.  Middle-class Hispanic households have migrated to Austin from other parts of the state and the country for high-tech and trade sector jobs while international immigrant Hispanic and Latino households have come here for construction and service sector jobs.  Among other effects on the total population, the huge influx of Hispanic families into Austin, with higher-than-average household sizes and more children per household, has acted to dampen the increase in the city’s median age, keeping Austin one of the youngest cities in the country. Moreover, were it not for Hispanic families moving into the urban core, the city’s falling families-with-children share would have had a much steeper descent.

5. Asian share skyrocketing

The Asian share of total population in Austin almost doubled during the nineties, leaping from 3.3% in 1990 to almost 5% by 2000 and stands somewhere near the 6.5% mark today.  Like their Hispanic counterparts, the incoming Asians to Austin during the past 15 years are a much more diverse sub-population than what existed in Austin in the past.  For example, thirty years ago, if you were Asian and in Austin, chances are you were Chinese and somehow associated with the University of Texas.  Today, Austin hosts an Asian population that spans the socioeconomic spectrum and is sourced by several countries of origin, with India, Vietnam and China being the largest contributors, please see Asians by Origin graph.

Austin has become a destination, for example, for Vietnamese households flowing out of metropolitan Houston.  This highly entrepreneurial population has opened new businesses, purchased restaurants, made loans available to its network and acquired real estate.  Emerging clusters of Vietnamese households are evident in several northeast Austin neighborhoods.  Please see Vietnamese by Surname map.

Amazingly, by the middle of the next decade, the number of Asians in Austin will more than likely exceed the number of African Americans.  While the general population of Austin doubles every 20 to 25 years, the number of Asians in Austin is doubling every ten years.

6. Geography of African Americans, dispersion and flight to the suburbs

The critical mass and historical heavy concentration of African American households in east Austin began eroding during the 1980s, and by the mid-1990s, had really begun to break apart.  Please see African American Populations 1990 and 2000 map.

Over the past 25 years, middle-class African American households have left east Austin for the suburbs and other parts of Austin, please see map.  The level of residential segregation for African Americans has dropped significantly as their level of spatial concentration has diminished.  Many community leaders talk today of how many of these families are still returning to churches in east Austin on Sunday morning.  However, many of these same community leaders fear that the newly-suburban African American population will eventual build suburban churches closer to home, leaving the original houses of worship somewhat stranded.  The potential impact of the loss of these churches and their community outreach and community care programs on the African American households left in east Austin could be devastating.

7. Geography of Hispanics, intensifying urban barrios along with movement into rural areas

Maps of Hispanic household concentrations from Census 2000 reveal the emergence of three overwhelmingly Hispanic population centers in Austin: lower east Austin (which also serves as the political bedrock of Austin’s Hispanic community), greater Dove Springs, and the St. Johns area.  Dove Springs shifted from being about 45% Hispanic in 1990 to almost 80% by 2000.  St. Johns went from being 35% to 70%--this radical transition is clearly evident on the streets of St. Johns, a neighborhood that once hosted one of Austin’s oldest African American communities.  Please see Hispanic Population 2000 map.

The import of this trend is this: at the same time that ethnic minority populations are moving into the middle-class and are more capable than ever to live anywhere they choose, there are parts of the city where ethnic concentration is greatly increasing.  However, it is lower-income minority households that are most likely to participate in the clustering phenomenon.

8. An increasingly sharp edge of affluence

Maps of Median Family Income from Census 2000 show an increasingly hard edge between affluent central Texas and less-than-affluent parts of the urban region.  While some forms of residential segregation have decreased markedly over the past few decades in Austin, the degree of socio-economic spatial separation has steeply increased.  The center of wealth in Austin has slowly migrated into the hills west of the city.  Please see Median Family Income maps MFI 2000, MSA 2000(block level), and MSA 2000, tract level in sequence to get a feel for just how much of an island of affluence exists in greater Austin.

This trend of wealth-creep out of the City creates an even greater burden for citizens funding services and facilities that are used and enjoyed by individuals from across the region. Austin is becoming a more divided city, divided not just in terms of income but also in terms of cultural attributes, linguistic characteristics and political persuasions.  For example, precinct-level results from the 2004 Presidential election reveal a deep cleavage within the Austin urban area in terms of the residential location of Republicans (map) and Democrats (map) and the dividing line between Red and Blue Austin that roughly follows MoPac from south to north, illuminating the strong east to west political spatial dichotomy (map). 

9. Regional indigent health care burden

During the foreseeable future, the regional indigent health care burden will continue to grow and the city’s disproportionate shouldering of the cost will increase as well. 

The creation of the Travis County Hospital District in 2004 was a giant step toward leveling the uneven burden of indigent health care across the Austin region, and yet, there was an obvious spatial pattern of who supported the creation of the district and who did not, as illustrated by the precinct-level results of that vote.

10. Intensifying urban sprawl 

The Austin region will continue to experience intense urban sprawl, please see map.  Although there is an enormous amount of residential development currently underway within the urban core and in downtown Austin, the thousands of new units being created there will be only a drop in the regional bucket of total residential units created.  There simply are very few land availability constraints in the territory surrounding Austin. 

And yet this is not to say that the positive effects of new urbanism and Smart Growth policies won’t be felt inside the city, it is rather to say that even with the success of the many enlightened urbanizing efforts currently afoot in Austin, urban sprawl and its footprint will have an enduring presence in central Texas.

Conclusion

Austin is a magical place, an attractive place, attractive not only in terms of natural beauty but also in terms of its gravitational pull for people.

Austin draws its special character from its physical setting along the Balcones Escarpment, a city wedged between coastal plain and dramatic cliffs, canyons and juniper carpeted rolling hills; it sits on the edge of the Chihuahuan desert existing as a physical and cultural oasis where talented, entreprenurial, hard working people are drawn from all over the world. 

Austin’s quality of life has become its biggest economic development engine, and the city’s diverse demographic structure serves to support and enrich its quality of life.

Ryan Robinson City Demographer

NOTE:  This list was originally put together in 2008 and has been updated using Census 2010 information and the more recently released American Community Survey data.  March 2016.

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