Texas -- big and growing even bigger

As Bush departs, 2000 census shows techno types and retirees flocking to 'a new Sun Belt.'



In Washington these days, "Bush-Cheney" bumper stickers on cars with Texas license plates may be multiplying like mad. But back in the Lone Star State, the bumper sticker of the moment reflects a different demographic trend. It reads, "I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could."

After a close look at the first wave of numbers from the 2000 census, demographers have concluded that a dramatic population increase in Texas since 1990 is at least partly the result of people moving from other parts of the country in search of an easier lifestyle, a lower cost of living and a more hospitable climate.

According to William Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan, the state of Texas -- along with Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina -- have experienced significant population gains since 1990 because Americans have moved there for a better place to live and work.

Frey says the latest population shifts are so dramatic that they have created what he calls "a new Sun Belt," an area that has both strong technological job growth and is a magnet for retirees.

"The knowledge-worker industry is thriving, and so is the global economy that is linked to Mexico and Latin America," Frey said.

Frey notes that because of congestion and living costs, particularly on the West Coast, even Californians are moving elsewhere.

"Maybe the new charge is, 'Go East, young man, go East,' " Frey said, noting the increasingly high cost of living in and around Silicon Valley south of San Francisco.

The rate of population growth in Northeastern states also has been declining for several decades.

The Census Bureau reported in December that the U.S. population had topped 281.4 million, up 13.2 percent in the past decade.

The biggest percentage growth in population in the 1990s was in Nevada, up 66.3 percent since 1990, to 2 million. Texas' population grew 22.8 percent, to 20.9 million.

According to Steve Murdock, director of the Texas Data Center, population growth in the state is a result of domestic migration and international immigration as well as births.

"Texas' growth over the last decade was larger than the total population of 24 states," he notes.

Murdock also said even without the racial and ethnic breakdowns, which will be released in the spring, it is clear that the diversity of Texas population will continue to be strong.

"We know that the Hispanic population is increasing both by immigration and birth rate, and we also know that there has been some domestic migration of African-Americans to Texas," Murdock said.

Frey said domestic migration was one factor in the reapportionment that will give Texas two new seats in Congress beginning in 2002. Texas displaced New York as the nation's second-largest state; New York is losing two seats.

Like Texas, New York has a relatively high number of new immigrant residents from other countries. But far more New Yorkers move to other states than those who choose to relocate there.

The same is true in California, which continues to gain international immigrants but lose domestic residents to other states.

Frey believes Texas will continue to thrive because of its affordability and potential for economic growth, particularly if the state learns from other regions about trying to control suburban sprawl.

"Texas is well-poised for the next decade because of its diversity and strong economy," Frey says.

Even if it is losing a few high-profile residents to the nation's capital, that is.

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