Will Texas Turn to Face the Strain?

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Road trip! First stop- Texas!

Over the next few weeks I’ll pick a few states whose age demography data to examine a bit more closely from our new study Turn and Face the Strain. Rather than start with a state that looks to be in huge trouble, let’s start with one with the potential to rule the roost of the year 2030 if only it could put its affairs in order.

When we peer into the United States Census Bureau’s forecasts for Texas, the news is challenging vis a vis today but relatively forgiving compared to the rest of the nation. Texas will be one of the six states with an elderly population smaller than the percentage in Florida in 2030 according to Census projections.

Hurricane Gray is going to hit Texas, but in relative terms it will be delivering a glancing blow- mostly due to the fact that the state has a huge youth population now (potentially very handy for 2030).

Here is the Census Bureau’s projection for the total age dependency ratio of Texas between 2010 and 2030:



And here are the gory details:


Mind you, this is no walk in the park- the Census Bureau projects the elderly population to more than double and educating an additional 1.6 million students is not free. The projected total age dependency ratio is far higher than any state has now. Texas however has some powerful factors working in its favor, including robust job growth, two of the world’s great oil fields and that large youth population destined to turn into a huge working age population.

Oh, about that huge youth population, well:

Texas K-12 ethnic breakdown


Texas 8th Grade NAEP Reading

The need to improve K-12 results is the Achilles heel of the Texas juggernaut. Among Anglo 8th graders 43% proficiency among 30 percent of the total student population gets you 12.6% of the total student population reading proficiently as 8th graders. Seventeen percent of the 50% of Texas students who are Hispanic nets you another 8.5% of the total population. African-Americans contribute less that 2 percent. There is nothing acceptable about any of this.

Call me crazy but this does not look like a recipe for either prosperity or a stable democracy in the decades ahead. Let’s just put it on the table that having far more Hispanic students scoring “Below Basic” than proficient in reading is incredibly dangerous for the future of Texas.

Texas Hispanic

It’s not too late for Texas but her policymakers are going to need to walk outside of the school district industrial lobbying complex echo chamber (aka the Texas Capitol) and think deeply about where the education status-quo is taking the nation’s leading state. Alternatively a new set of voices need to intrude on the conversation in a dramatic fashion. Sure the state can import college educated workers from other states with less vibrant economies, but no one should be under the delusion that simply going through the motions of educating a huge majority of students is not going to bite you in the end-it inevitably will.

Just as important, it places an incredible strain on the way Texans desperately want to see ourselves-as an opportunity society.  Texas can go either way-towards a nationally leading and globally significant society or towards a deeply bifurcated state with a small and pale minority nervously attempting to prosper among a large majority ill-equipped to prosper in a changing world (see California circa now). Texas will need to choose to embrace the ideals of America or the realities of Brazil. Every additional year of inaction brings the state another step closer to Brazil.

One Response to Will Texas Turn to Face the Strain?

  1. Molly says:

    I agree with your conclusions entirely. Having spent 4 years in Texas, and witnessed the educational landscape there, I think that the high-quality charters will not be able to expand rapidly enough to counter the imagination-dulling environment of a typical public school. The Texas educational establishment is entrenched with those who think the approaches taught by teacher colleges are just fine, that is to say, those who reject the entrepreneurial/pioneer/cowboy/opportunity spirit of Texas and instead embrace modern pedagogy. And the populace is all too trusting of the educational establishment (with a few rare exceptions, like Alice Linahan and her fellow fighters). If Texas succeeds, in my opinion, it will be in spite of the the state’s educational system, not because of it.

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