Though some east/west coastal cities—notably, San Francisco—have enjoyed vigorous growth of late, none has been nearly as proficient in creating jobs in the new millennium as Texas’s four leading metros. Overall, Dallas–Fort Worth and Houston have emerged as the nation’s fastest-expanding big-city economies. Between 2000 and 2015, Dallas–Fort Worth boosted its net job numbers by 22.7 percent, and Houston expanded them by an even better 31.2 percent. Smaller Austin (38.2 percent job-base increase) and once-sleepy San Antonio (31.4 percent) have done just as well. New York, by way of comparison, increased its number of jobs in those years by just 10 percent, Los Angeles by 6.5 percent, and San Francisco by 5.2 percent, while Chicago actually lost net employment. And the Texas jobs are not just low-wage employment. Middle-class positions—those paying between 80 percent and 200 percent of the national median wage—have expanded 39 percent in Austin, 26 percent in Houston, and 21 percent in Dallas since 2001. These percentages far outpace the rate of middle-class job creation in San Francisco (6 percent), New York and Los Angeles (little progress), and Chicago (down 3 percent) over the same period.
In 2015, unemployment among Texas’s Hispanic population reached just 4.9 percent, the lowest for Latinos in the country—California’s rate tops 7 percent—and below the national average of 5.3 percent.
Texas Latinos show an entrepreneurial streak. In a recent survey of the 150 best cities for Latino business owners, Texas accounted for 17 of the top 50 locations; Boston, New York, L.A., and San Francisco were all in the bottom third of the ranking. In a census measurement, San Antonio and Houston boasted far larger shares of Latino-owned firms than did heavily Hispanic L.A.
In Texas, Hispanics are becoming homeowners, a traditional means of entering the middle class. In New York, barely a quarter of Latino households own their own homes, while in Los Angeles, 38 percent do. In Houston, by contrast, 52 percent of Hispanic households own homes, and in San Antonio, it’s 57 percent—matching the Latino homeownership rate for Texas as a whole. That’s well above the 46 percent national rate for Hispanics—and above the rate for all California households. (The same encouraging pattern exists for Texas’s African-Americans.)
California and Texas, the nation’s most populous states, are often compared. Both have large Latino populations, for instance, but make no mistake: Texas’s, especially in large urban areas, is doing much better, and not just economically. Texas public schools could certainly be improved, but according to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress—a high-quality assessment—Texas fourth- and eighth-graders scored equal to or better than California kids, including Hispanics, in math and reading. In Texas, the educational gap between Hispanics and white non-Hispanics was equal to or lower than it was in California in all cases.
Though California, with 12 percent of the American population, has more than 35 percent of the nation’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare caseload—with Latinos constituting nearly half the adult rolls in the state—Texas, with under 9 percent of the country’s population, has less than 1 percent of the national welfare caseload. Further, according to the 2014 American Community Survey, Texas Hispanics had a significantly lower rate of out-of-wedlock births and a higher marriage rate than California Hispanics.
In California, Latino politics increasingly revolves around ethnic identity and lobbying for government subsidies and benefits. In Texas, the goal is upward mobility through work. “There is more of an accommodationist spirit here,” says Rodrigo Saenz, an expert on Latino demographics and politics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where the student body is 50 percent Hispanic. It’s obvious which model best encourages economic opportunity.