2020 Census data shows how the Houston region has evolved over the last decade

The U.S. Census Bureau has released data from the 2020 Census; however, collecting this data did not come without its challenges. In March 2020, right as households began receiving invitations to participate in the 2020 Census, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the U.S. Census Bureau to cease all in-person operations. Not only did social distancing make it challenging to go door-to-door to follow-up with folks who hadn’t completed the census, but the virus (along with uncertainty around the existence of citizenship-status questions) also hindered Houston’s response rates to the 2020 Census

In an article with Understanding Houston, Frances Valdez, the Executive Director of Houston in Action, wrote, “The census affects how billions of our tax dollars will come back into our communities through federal budgeting allocations over the next decade.” The lower the response rate, the smaller the budgets for services and programs like public education, public transit, housing, and more. Decennial census data allows us to look at the present to understand what the Houston region may need in the future. This data informs redistricting efforts, alerts county officials to which groups are growing or declining, and helps policymakers’ plans to strengthen our region for the road ahead. 

Houston’s three-county region adds one million residents in past decade

The past decade has been a time of growth for both the state of Texas and the Greater Houston region. The population of Texas grew to 29.1 million in 2020 by adding nearly 4 million residents since 2010. Three Houston-area counties — Fort Bend, Harris, Montgomery — accounted for one-fourth of Texas’ population growth.

As for the population in Houston, each one of our three largest counties has also experienced population growth. The population of Harris County — the most populous county in the state — increased to 6.2 million (15.6%) between 2010 and 2020. Fort Bend County is home to 822,800 people and grew 40.6% in the last decade — the fastest growth rate in our three-county region. Montgomery County’s population grew 36.1% since 2010 to 620,400 in 2020.

Population growth consists of two main components: natural increase and net migration. Natural increase refers to the number of births minus deaths in a population, and tends to remain relatively steady over time. Whereas, net migration — the total of the number of individuals who moved into an area minus those who moved out — can have more frequent fluctuations. 

Domestic and international migration drives Houston’s population growth

The U.S. Census Bureau distinguishes between domestic and international migration in its migration estimates — domestic migration is any movement within the nation while international migration refers to movement across international borders.

For example, between 2010 and 2020, about 81,900 more residents left Harris County to live somewhere else in the U.S. than moved into Harris County from another U.S. county. (This is the second consecutive decade in which Harris County had negative net domestic migration. Between 2000 and 2010, 72,100 more residents left Harris County to live somewhere else in the country.) 

If Harris County is losing people domestically, why is Houston growing so fast? Because Harris County net-gained 289,400 residents to its population between 2010 and 2020 from more people from overseas moving into the area than leaving it for another country. Much of Fort Bend and Montgomery counties’ population growth comes from domestic migration — historically, people from Harris County moving to a neighboring one.

Projections for Houston’s population hit the mark

In 2014, the Texas Demographic Center (previously known as State Data Center) made population projections for three different migration scenarios: one, assuming zero net migration (the number of people who move in equals the number of people moving out), another assuming a net migration rate equal to one-half of the rate seen between 2000 and 2010 (0.5 Scenario), and a final scenario assuming the net migration rate will be equal to the rate seen between 2000 and 2010 (1.0 Scenario). 

The 2020 population of Texas is not very different from the projections the Texas Demographic Center made in 2014. Under the 0.5 scenario, they projected that the population of Texas would reach 28.8 million by 2020. Under the 1.0 Scenario, they projected Fort Bend’s population would reach 888,600; under the 0.5 Scenario, they projected Harris County’s population would reach 4,683,874; and Montgomery’s 2020 population is closest to the 1.0 Scenario estimate. 

What is the expected population growth in Houston? According to their most recent Houston population growth projections made in 2018, the Texas Demographic Center estimates that by 2030, Fort Bend’s population will nearly double to 1.2 million, Harris County’s will exceed 5.9 million, and Montgomery County’s will reach 831,450.

More than two-thirds of Houston’s three-county region is comprised of People of Color

The past 40 years has been one of transformative change for the three-county Houston region. Not only has our region grown to one of the most populous in the nation, but also the racial/ethnic composition of our already diverse population has further diversified. Between 1980 and 2020, each of the four largest racial/ethnic groups increased, however the growth rate of Hispanics and Asian Americans outpaced that of non-Hispanic whites and Black Houstonians, creating a shift in Houston’s demographics from being majority-white to majority-people-of-color. While this mirrors a similar trend happening across the nation and the state of Texas, no other major metropolitan area has witnessed this change more acutely and quickly as Houston, according to Stephen Klineberg, principal investigator of the Houston Area Survey and sociologist at Rice University. Interact with the chart below to see how racial/ethnic composition has changed in our region and Texas by selecting different geographies in the drop-down menu.

In 2020, there were nearly 2.4 million Hispanics/Latinos in Houston’s three-county region (nearly 39% of the region), with 2 million in Harris County alone. In 1980, just 40 years ago, Hispanics comprised 15% of the population of Houston’s three-county region. The weight of these figures typically does not faze most Houstonians who have witnessed this significant shift, but to most Americans, these changes are unique. For example, among the 100 most populous counties in the nation, only 12 have a higher percentage of Hispanics than Harris County. More recently, Houston’s Hispanic/Latino community has grown considerably in the last decade. Between 2010 and 2020, the Hispanic population in Houston’s three-county region grew by 26% alone. The number of Latinos grew by 43% in Fort Bend County, 22% in Harris County, and 73% in Montgomery County during the same time period.

More broadly, in Texas, the Hispanic/Latino population grew by nearly 2 million people between 2010 and 2020, increasing its share of the state population from 37.6% to 39.3%. In fact, non-white people made up 95% of all of Texas’ growth in the past 10 years –– and Hispanics alone accounted for half of that growth.

According to recent Census data, the three-county region’s Asian-American population grew by 53% — from 358,000 in 2010 to 548,000 in 2020 — the fastest growth rate in our region. In 2020, Asian Americans comprised 8.9% of the population of Houston’s three-county region compared to 7.0% in 2010 and only 1.8% in 1980. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Asian Americans grew 84% in Fort Bend County, 38% in Harris County, and 129% in Montgomery County — though Asian Americans comprise less than 4% of Montgomery’s total population.

Fort Bend County has the highest proportion of Asian-American residents in Texas (22%). In Sugar Land, nearly 39% of the population identifies as Asian American. Asian Indians comprise 41% of the Asian-American population in Fort Bend, while Vietnamese Americans account for the largest share in the rest of our region. Read more about the fastest-growing ethnic group in our region here.

Of course, it is difficult to talk about Houston’s population growth without considering how certain groups are typically displaced from their communities due to changing economic and demographic conditions. For example, the Houston Chronicle reports that historically Black Third Ward has changed significantly in the last decade. In 2020, Black people comprised 45% of the neighborhood — a decline from 71% in 2010. Acres Homes in North Houston saw its Black population fall 12% and its Latino population grow by 65%. Second Ward saw its Latino population decline by 25% while its white population increased 50%. Learn more about the history of these communities in the Chronicle’s report.

Continue reading about the diversity of Houston

Trends today inform Houston’s future

Census data allows us to recognize the trends of the past and plan for the population of the future. The data also represents an opportunity for us to strengthen our region in the places where change and evolution will be necessary. These shifts in the Houston population have implications for our community context, economic opportunity in our region, our education system, and much more, including the process of adding a congressional district to our region and redistricting, which is currently underway. 

As Houston’s three-county region continues to grow, we will continue to analyze and report on the data that affects our communities. Given the pandemic, the Census Bureau is expected to release its first-that-we-know of “experimental” data set that will allow us to delve deeper into the latest trends on a broader range of quality of life issues. Stay tuned for data updates coming in November and early 2022! We invite you to get to know the data, keep up with our mission on social media and discover how you can get involved to help Understanding Houston continue exploring what matters to the Houston area.

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