10 reasons why so many people are moving to Texas
- 30 May 2013
- From the section Magazine
Half of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the US are in Texas, according to new figures. Why?
Every way you look at it, there are a lot of people moving to Texas.
Five of the 10 fastest-growing cities in the country between 2011 and 2012 were in Texas, according to new figures from the US Census Bureau. New York is way out in front in terms of added population, but Houston is second with San Antonio and Austin fourth and fifth.
In terms of percentage growth, it's even more Texas, Texas, Texas. Among the five cities that grew most, as a proportion of their size, between 2011 and 2012, three are Texan. San Marcos is out in front with the highest rate of growth among all US cities and towns - 4.9%.
Some of this Texan population boom is due to a natural increase - more births than deaths - but the numbers moving into the state from elsewhere in the US and from abroad far outstrip every other American state. Why?
"I don't think people go for the weather or topography," says Joel Kotkin, professor of urban development at Chapman University in Orange, California. "The main reason people go is for employment. It's pretty simple.
"The unconventional oil and gas boom has helped turn Texas into an economic juggernaut, particularly world energy capital Houston, but growth has also been strong in tech, manufacturing and business services."
Critics have questioned whether the "Texas miracle" is a myth, based on cheap labour and poor regulation.
But Kotkin says Texas has plenty of high-wage, blue-collar jobs and jobs for university graduates, although people looking for very high-wage jobs would probably head to Seattle, San Francisco and New York.
Four of the top 10 metropolitan areas for job growth in 2013 are in Texas, according to Kotkin's website, New Geography.
Texas also has a huge military presence, which grew as defence spending increased in the decade after 9/11. Many retired Texans first came to the state as service personnel.
2. It's cheaper
Once employed, it's hugely important that your pay cheque goes as far as possible, says Kotkin.
"New York, LA and the [San Francisco] Bay Area are too expensive for most people to live, but Houston has the highest 'effective' pay cheque in the country."
Kotkin came to this conclusion after looking at the average incomes in the country's 51 largest metro areas, and adjusting them for the cost of living. His results put three Texan areas in the top 10.
Houston is top because of the region's relatively low cost of living, including consumer prices, utilities and transport costs and, most importantly, housing prices, he says.
"The ratio of the median home price to median annual household income in Houston is only 2.9. In San Francisco, it's 6.7.
"In New York, San Francisco and LA, if you're blue-collar you will be renting forever and struggling to make ends meet. But people in Texas have a better shot at getting some of the things associated with middle-class life."
Land is cheaper than elsewhere and the process of land acquisition very efficient, says Dr Ali Anari, research economist at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.
"From the time of getting a building permit right through to the construction of homes, Texas is much quicker than other states.
"There is an abundant supply of land and fewer regulations and more friendly government, generally a much better business attitude here than other states."
This flexibility, plus strict lending rules, helped to shield the state from the recent housing market crash.
4. Low tax
Texas is one of only seven states where residents pay no personal state income tax, says Kay Bell, contributing tax editor at Bankrate and Texan native.
The state has a disproportionate take from property taxes, which has become a big complaint among homeowners, she adds. But overall, only five states had a lower individual tax burden than Texas, according to Tax Foundation research.
There are also tax incentives for businesses and this week legislators cut more than $1bn off proposed business taxes.
5. Pick your own big city
Texas has six of the country's 20 biggest cities, says Erica Grieder, author of Big, Hot, Cheap and Right: What America Can Learn from the Strange Genius of Texas.
Contrast this to, for example, Illinois, where if you want to live in a big city you can live in Chicago or you have to move out of state, she says.
But if you're in Texas you can be in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, or El Paso.
6. Austin in particular
Restaurant manager Christopher Hislop, 33, moved in 2007 from Los Angeles to Austin, where he met his wife and they now have a nine-month-old boy.
"I came to Austin for a wedding and thought it was a really cool city and the people were nice - it was everything that LA wasn't but still had that hip vibe without pretension. The nightlife is great and there's an emphasis on getting out and about - they maintain trailways and nature.
"It's not Texas at all and that's what I liked about it. I don't know Texas very well, I grew up in Chicago, but Austin is not Texas because you think of 10-gallon hats and guys on horseback. It's a cliché but Austin isn't like that, it's hip and in the now. The rest of Texas is very conservative."
People like to perpetuate a myth that Austin is still the Austin it once was, says Joshua Long, author of Weird City: Sense of Place and Creative Resistance in Austin, Texas. So as it's become a big city, a movement has developed to "keep it cool, keep it weird and keep it environmentally friendly".
Because of its good-value housing, Texas has been particularly popular with families, and some of its cities now have an above-average number of children. San Antonio is home to the largest community of gay parents.
In Texas, you can have a reasonable mortgage and pretty good schools, says Grieder. And restaurants are invariably family-friendly.
"You hear about the high drop-out rate but Texas education scores pretty well at national tests for 4th and 8th graders in math, reading and science. The aggregate is about average.
"The perception is that Texas has poor schools but it's not correct. Across the country in general, we don't have schools as good as we would like them to be."
In eighth-grade maths, for instance, Texas scored higher than the national average and outscored the three other big states of California, New York and Florida. On Sunday, an education budget was approved that restored cuts made in 2011.
8. Fewer rules
"Texas is liberal in the classic sense, it's laissez-faire, so there's a lack of regulations," says Grieder, and this can apply to the obvious (business regulations) or the less obvious (city rules).
"The classic social contract is - we're not going to do a ton to help you but we're not going to get in your way. That's not 100% true of the state but there's that strand in the state."
Mortgage lending is an obvious exception. But there has been strong opposition to banning texting while driving and a proposed tax on soda.
And Governor Rick Perry is poised to sign off the strongest email privacy laws in the US, which would require state law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before accessing emails.
9. Texans are normal people
The state likes to proclaim itself as an unpretentious, down-to-earth place where people are easy to get along with.
As John Steinbeck wrote: "Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America."
And for people with conservative values, it could be a natural home, although demographic shifts have prompted speculation it will be a Democratic state in the future.
People dream about moving to California, but they don't dream about moving to Texas, says Grieder, yet many of those reluctant to move there end up liking it.
She adds: "[They] realise that Texans aren't all Bible thumping, gun-toting people. The job is the trigger to come but you find it's pretty nice to live here."
10. And they're not going anywhere
All this doesn't just bring in new arrivals - native Texans aren't leaving the state either. It is the "stickiest" state in the country, according to the latest figures from the Pew Research Center, which suggest that more than three-quarters of adults born in Texas still live there. Alaska is the least sticky.