New Census Bureau figures show much of rural Texas facing a potential 'death spiral' caused by young people leaving rural communities, leaving those towns without the ability to grow, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Joachim Singlemann, the Chair and Distinguished Professor of the Department of Demography at UTSA, says the fact is, young people are moving out of rural Texas, especially west Texas, and it will be difficult for the communities to deal with that loss.
"You have more older people and fewer younger people, and that means that with fewer young people, the fertility rates aren't there and the births aren't there," he said.
Paint Creek, near Abilene, is a perfect example of the decline facing rural Texas. In the 1950 Census, Haskell County, which is best known as the home of Gov. Rick Perry, counted more than 14,000 residents. Today, that number is lower than 6,000, and Census figures say the growth has accelerated.
"There is going to be a gradual population decline, and that is generally the rest of outmigration," he said.
He says the state and local policymakers have to come up with strategies to deal with the gradual and inevitable population decline. That means more farm and ranch land which used to be owned by local people will fall into the hands of absentee corporate landowners. Local businesses will dry up, accelerating the decline. And, when a community's school closes, it makes it almost impossible for a community to rebound.
"It starts up in the Panhandle, and it pretty much goes straight down, straight south, in terms of the worst depopulation," Singlemann said.
He says at a time when the population is least able to afford new social services, the population is a greater need of them than ever. The remaining heritage population is older, which means it relies on disability and Social Security payments. Any newcomers arriving are more likely to be poor, usually immigrants, who also require services ranging from food stamps to English as a Second Language programs.
He says parts of east Texas, especially traditionally African American areas which relied strongly on community ties, are also experiencing this decline.
The decline of rural Texas was not supposed to happen. The growth of technology, especially the Internet, was supposed to allow more people to work from home, and the historic attraction of small communities, low crime, knowing one's neighbors, and that 'Andy Griffith' type local feel, was supposed to be the salvation of small towns. Unfortunately, that transformation has not occurred. Fully one third of Texas counties have a smaller population today than they had in 1950.
Singlemann says there is one exception. He says the small Brush Country counties in the Eagle Ford Shale region are bucking that trend, and are seeing growing populations. He says the key will be for those communities to translate that boom into long term, sustainable growth.
"These communities may show in a couple of years that there is substantial in-migration," he said.
Oil and natural gas will play the role that agriculture played for so many years in those small communities, providing the economic incentive for growth. But currently, demographers say the residents of the 'man camps' which make up much of the population growth are frequently counted as residents of the places where their families live, and it will be up to the small counties to utilize the wealth from the Eagle Ford to create the types of infrastructure, from housing to movie theaters, to schools, which will convince the mostly male Eagle Ford workers bring their families to the Brush Country and decide to stay.