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Gone to Texas: The golden goose behind Austin’s post-recession growth—and why it might be threatened
Between 2000 and 2019, when the last available population estimates were tallied, the population of Texas increased 39% and that of the city of Austin increased 49%, fueling countless headlines referencing boomtown status.
"We have been growing substantially," State Demographer Lloyd Potter told Austonia. "This past decade Texas added more people than any other state."
This growth, however, is not new. Texas and by extension Austin have grown rapidly since their foundings. To better understand their magnetism, Austonia has looked into the drivers of migration starting in the 19th and 20th century. Today's installment focuses on the 21st century, when the state and its capital city continued to expand, even as the nature of the American boomtown fundamentally changed. Read the past installments here.
The state's population growth is due to two factors: natural increase, which just means more births than deaths, and migration, both from other parts of the U.S. and other countries.
After the Great Recession, Texas bounced back more quickly than other states, providing job opportunities to hopeful transplants from other states. "Domestic migration is largely a function of what happens economically, not just in Texas but also across the country," Potter said, citing California, Florida and Illinois among the biggest net senders. Although Texas also loses residents to other states—notably Colorado and Tennessee—domestic migration has fueled around one-third of Texas' population growth in recent years.
International migration is more steady—"there's only so many visas given out every year," Potter said—but the demographics have changed in the last decade or so. Mexican migration has largely been supplanted by migration from other Central and South American countries in the post-recession period, said Paul Hart, a professor of history at Texas State University whose research focuses on modern Mexico. There's also been an uptick in immigration from Asian countries, China and India in particular. Locally, this impact can be seen in North Austin and Williamson County, where the tech industry has served as a powerful draw.
In addition to domestic and international migration, there's also been a movement among Texans. Although the state's population grew by more than 4 million people between 2010 and 2020, 104 of Texas' 254 counties were losing population at last count. "A lot of the growth we're seeing in the urbanized areas is from people moving in from more rural parts of the state," Potter said, adding that this growth is even more acute in the suburbs and counties neighboring big cities such as Austin.
All this growth, however, has led to some growing pains. Despite Austin's continued boom, its Black population has been in steady decline since the turn of the 21st century—a statistic that makes it an outlier among other growing big cities. "Concentrated segregation followed by concentrated gentrification resulted in the massive displacement of African Americans from their historic communities," according to a 2016 report from the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at the University of Texas Austin.
Rapid population growth has also stressed the city's (and the state's) infrastructure, leading to award-winning traffic congestion; multi-billion dollar efforts to right-size the city's transit system, such as Project Connect; unending sprawl; and the recent winter storm super crisis, which left millions without power and water for days amid subfreezing temperatures. "So many people, they just didn't anticipate the infrastructure or build the infrastructure," Potter said.
This is not to say that the boom is in any danger of going bust, however. "As long as Texas' economy stays strong, as most indicators suggest, I think we can anticipate to continue to have population growth," he added.
The changing nature of booms
Austin's growth has been steady since its founding in 1839, but the nature of American boomtowns has changed dramatically.
David Schleicher, a professor at Yale Law School whose specialties include land use and urban development, said cities fit technology. In the early 20th century, boomtowns emerged along ports and near railroad hubs, with local economic booms going hand-in-hand with population booms. "This was a product of there was demand to live there, and there was easy supply," he said.
But this is no longer the case, generally speaking. "What has changed in modern America is that many of our booms … those cities don't accommodate booms," Schleicher said, pointing to Silicon Valley, which has the economic driver of big tech but has also grown prohibitively expensive due to restrictive land-use policies that deter migration.
It's too soon to tell whether this will be Austin's fate. "Austin is growing quickly in part because it's seen as a cheaper, but still cool, alternative for tech firms," he said. "This will inevitably put pressure on its land use system as people who are used to one form of suburban type of town … have incentive to restrict entry because it will make them richer."
The increasingly polarized politics of land use reform aside, Schleicher argues that Austin's relative affordability is what is driving its current population growth. Without a housing supply that is keeping pace, the city could see its main draw compromised. "There is a possibility that you could kill the goose that lays the golden egg," he said.
Read the first two installments of this series here.
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With more research done on the COVID-19 Delta variant, Austin Public Health is upping its goal of 70% vaccinated to at least 80% due to the extreme virality of the strain.
As more Delta cases are identified—up to 29 cases are confirmed in Travis County—health officials are urging the unvaccinated to get their shots to contain the spread and relieve hospitals from reaching full capacity.
Austin-Travis County surpassed the Stage 5 threshold on Friday and has reached a seven-day average of 61 hospital admissions. However, Austin health leaders have yet to make an official shift as the Delta variant calls for new guidance, APH Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said at a joint Travis County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday morning.
The new guidance has yet to be released, but Walkes said it will take into account the viral load of Delta on both unvaccinated and vaccinated people.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the Delta variant was as contagious as chickenpox, which has a herd immunity threshold of at least 90% vaccinated.
Although 63.42% of those eligible in Travis County are fully vaccinated, breakthrough cases—where vaccinated people are contracting COVID-19—are being identified. APH has identified 1,496 breakthrough cases of the roughly 800,000 vaccinated. Most breakthrough cases are showing less severe symptoms or are asymptomatic, according to APH.
Health officials are still asking residents to wear masks, although the city cannot mandate any masking orders due to an executive order by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
"Our challenge is going to be whether we're going to stand as a community and everyone who can get vaccinated, get vaccinated, and everyone where a mask—that's what it's going to take," Walkes said.
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Save Austin Now police petition will reach November ballot after county clerk certifies 25,000 signatures
Save Austin Now is now 2-0 over Austin City Council after its petition to add more staffed police officers to the Austin Police Department was certified, garnering over the 20,000 votes needed to make it on an election ballot.
The petition calls for more police staffing per city resident, quicker response times and more training for city police officers in the wake of increasing violent crime rates nationwide and a year of limited APD staffing. The City Council will now decide whether to implement the ordinance outright or add it to the November election ballot; it will likely do the latter.
Over 25,000 of the 27,778 signatures racked up by the public safety petition were certified as valid, well over the 20,000-vote threshold required to be certified with the City Clerk. City Clerk Jannette Goodall placed the city's seal of approval on the petition on Tuesday morning.
The petition, by the same political group that got the camping ban reinstated through a petition in May, seeks to:
- Require minimum staffing of two officers per 1,000 residents
- Require a minimum standard of 35% community response time
- Add 40 hours of training
- Require city council members, Mayor Steve Adler and other city staff to enroll in the Citizens Police Academy
- Facilitate minority officer hiring through foreign language proficiency metrics
Austin's 160 patrol vacancies have dropped its staffing rate to 1.2 officers per 1,000 residents, according to the department. APD's response time has increased by about one minute and 50 seconds in a year.
The petition comes nearly a year after APD's budgets were slashed by city council following the summer's Black Lives Matter protests, which saw several demonstrators severely injured as millions called for justice in the police-related deaths of George Floyd and locally Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black man killed by APD officer Christopher Taylor, in April 2020.
Austin and the U.S. have experienced a widespread uptick in violent crime rates in 2021. The city has reached 49 homicides in 2021, higher than the total number of murders in all of 2020 and the 38 homicides in the city in 2019. Austin police officers have seen response times rise as the department suffers increased vacancies and fewer newcomers while cadet classes are being readjusted.
Opponents argue the ordinance would ramp up a policing budget while taking away from other departments including Fire, EMS, violence prevention, and mental health care. City Council Member Greg Casar, the Travis County Democratic Party and the Austin Justice Coalition have spoken out against the organization's latest public safety move, calling out the campaign as a "right-wing petition" that misleads those who sign.
🔥 PANTS ON FIRE: Republican-front group Save Austin Now is lying about their petition!
They say their measure is about police reform, when it's really about devastating our city budget - all for the benefit of the police union. Watch the video here ⬇️ #ATX pic.twitter.com/Z6QQSfhHfH
— Gregorio Casar (@GregCasar) August 2, 2021
The latest battle between city council and Save Austin Now will be decided by Austin residents in the Nov. 2 election.
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Austin City Limits fest and iHeartRadio Fest are the latest festivals to announce the removal of rapper DaBaby, who has come under fire for homophobic comments made during a recent festival.
The 29-year-old rapper, whose real name is Jonathan Lyndale Kirk, was dropped by Lollapalooza just hours before his set on Sunday, followed by the Governor's Ball in New York and Nevada's Day N Vegas after making unsolicited comments about men with HIV/AIDS at the Rolling Loud Festival in Miami. Rolling Stone Magazine confirmed with iHeartRadio organizers that DaBaby will no longer perform.
DaBaby will no longer be performing at Austin City Limits Music Festival — lineup update coming soon. pic.twitter.com/jAYfdJFxJf
— ACL Festival (@aclfestival) August 3, 2021
There is no word on who he will be replaced with yet, though rumors on ACL's subreddit, r/aclfestival, are saying they expect Tyler, The Creator, who performed at Lollapalooza. Kirk will be replaced at Day N Vegas by rapper Roddy Ricch.
Kirk later backtracked his offensive statements on his Instagram story, but again faced criticism for not exactly apologizing.
After facing a second round of backlash for his Instagram statements, the rapper posted on Instagram, saying:
In addition to being dropped from the festivals, DaBaby has been denounced by fellow celebrities like Dua Lipa, Madonna and Elton John.
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