Migration makes Texas suburbs boom, while births boost big cities like Dallas

The major metropolitan areas of Texas remain among the fastest-growing in the U.S. — Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land ranks first, and Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington is third — according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

But the counties that make up those metro areas grow in vastly different ways. While most of the suburban counties grew primarily through domestic migration, the central-city counties relied much more on natural increase — births minus deaths — and none more than Dallas.

Half of Collin County’s growth in the year that ended in July 2013 came from people moving in from other parts of the U.S., and in Denton, almost 60 percent moved in.

Dallas County added close to 27,000 residents from July 2012 to July 2013, almost all of them — more than 24,000 — through natural increase, the Census Bureau reported. More than 9,000 arrived from other countries. In domestic migration, though, far more people moved out of Dallas County — a net loss of almost 6,000 — than moved in.

“If you look at state-level data over the last several decades in Texas, you find that about half of the growth is through natural increase. The other half would be migration, equally divided between domestic and international,” said Dr. Steve Murdock, former head of the Census Bureau and now director of the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas at Rice University.

“But now, the reality is that about half of our growth is still through natural increase, but the other half is now 20 percent international and 30 percent domestic migration,” he said. “And the big central-city counties are more reliant on natural increase than migration.”

Dr. Lloyd Potter, the Texas state demographer, said the state’s major urban areas “have a relatively young age structure and are increasingly Hispanic [a group with relatively higher birthrates], so natural increase is a significant component of their growth.”

“Whenever we look at population growth, people have a knee-jerk assumption that it’s being driven by migration,” Potter said. “That certainly drives a significant portion; in Collin and Denton counties, domestic migration is the driving force.”

But in the urban areas, births account for much of the growth, he said.

The state’s largest county, Harris, which encompasses Houston, added almost 83,000 people between July 2012 and July 2013 — almost 43,000 through natural increase and about 40,000 through migration, much closer to the historical ratio.

Tarrant County grew by about 30,000 people over the same period — 16,000 through natural increase and almost 14,000 through migration, but with domestic migration adding almost twice as many as international migration.

“These numbers are a little soft,” Murdock said. “They’re estimates. But they do show that Tarrant is different than Dallas and different from Harris in the ratio of international vs. domestic migration.

“The pictures between the older, central-city counties and the suburban counties are very different,” he said. “In places like Collin and Denton, domestic migration is very important, and they’re seeing lots of growth from that.

“In the urban counties, growth is mostly births over deaths.”

In its latest release of annual population estimates for counties and metropolitan areas, the Census Bureau noted that many of the fastest-growing places in the U.S. were in oil- and gas-rich areas in and near the Great Plains and along the Gulf Coast.

That included the booming areas around Midland and Odessa, Fargo and Bismarck in North Dakota, and Casper, Wyo.

The fastest-growing “micropolitan” areas — between 10,000 and 49,000 people — were in North Dakota, western Oklahoma, New Mexico and Andrews, Texas, which sits just north of Odessa and Midland.

The continued growth in Midland and Odessa stood out to Potter, who described the effects of the oil boom as “just kind of crazy.”

“Housing is very difficult to find, and a lot of the businesses that use people with commercial driver’s licenses are losing them to the oil fields, people like school bus drivers,” he said.

“It’s the same with the service industries,” Potter said. “The demand for those services is growing faster than the supply, and that’s why we’re seeing all the migration there.”

The Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area remains one of the fastest-growing in the country, Potter said. Increasingly, it is also having significant growth-related problems.

“As a culture, they’ve been somewhat anti-growth, but they’re still growing very fast,” Potter said. “Now the infrastructure there is starting to feel the pinch with things like roads.”

The latest numbers also reinforced another trend: the continued growth of metropolitan areas and the declining fortunes of more rural areas.

Nationally, metropolitan areas with populations of 1 million or more grew by an average of 1 percent, double the rate for smaller metro areas, the Census Bureau said.

Metro areas grew faster than the U.S. as a whole, and among the fastest-growing metro areas, migration was the greatest driver of growth in all but five, including Dallas-Fort Worth.

But the 1,335 counties not included in either a metro or micro statistical area saw a collective population decline of more than 35,000 between July 2012 and July 2013, with more than six in 10 of those counties losing population.

Follow Michael E. Young on Twitter at @mikeyoungDMN. 


Staff Writer


Published: 26 March 2014 11:16 PM

Updated: 27 March 2014 08:50 AM