In the News


How does that saying go? If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Well, that saying is going to be a lot more applicable for the greater Houston region after the 2020 U.S. Census.

Despite the significant economic and demographic impact of the immigrant and Hispanic communities on the greater Houston region, a real possibility exists that the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census will leave the them undercounted, thus diminishing their role in our communities.

First, a few facts about the region’s immigrant community.

The Houston metropolitan statistical area is home to more than 7.3 million people, with more than 1.4 million being foreign-born. The area’s immigrant population has grown at a rate more than double the national average – 59 percent vs. 33 percent. The region’s immigrant community has greatly contributed to the region’s recent population growth and is a key contributor to the continued diversification of our city.

Immigrants in the greater Houston region are having a significant impact on our economy, too. According to the 2016 U.S. Census, the region’s immigrant community represents $38.2 billion in spending power and $50.9 billion in total income generated. Immigrants also account for $12.7 billion of the taxes paid in the region, including $3.5 billion paid in state and local taxes. What’s more is that immigrants are starting businesses at rates significantly higher than their native-born counterparts, with close to 132,000 immigrant entrepreneurs currently living in the area. In fact, immigrant residents are 53.2 percent more likely to be an entrepreneur than native-born residents.
In other words: immigrants are helping to power the fourth largest economy in the United States.

Taken on its own, the demographic and economic impact of the region’s Hispanic community is even more pronounced.

The Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area is home to more than 2.7 million Hispanics, representing just over 36 percent of the more than 7 million total residents in the region. And this number isn’t stagnant: projections demonstrate that the Hispanic population will grow at a rate close to 20 percent over the course of the next decade.

Hispanics in the MSA represent more than $54 billion in annual consumer spending, a number that’s expected to grow to close to $80 billion by 2022. Like the immigrant community, the rate at which Hispanics are starting businesses is outpacing the population as a whole. In 2017, Hispanics represented nearly 40 percent of the region’s small business owners, a number that has doubled in less than five years. The Hispanic community also represents a rapidly growing share of our workforce and are helping power the region into the future.
And despite the significant impact of these communities on our region, state, and country, it is likely that they will be minimized in the upcoming 2020 Census.

Worry exists among leaders, scholars, and advocates that an accurate 2020 Census population count will be very difficult to achieve, particularly among immigrant households. Due to the Trump administration’s decision to include a citizenship question in the survey for the first time since 1950, there is fear that the notoriously difficult to count immigrant and Hispanic communities will not participate in the Census due to the growing fear of providing information to the government.

The United States Census is typically used to capture current demographic trends, determine how many representatives each state can send to Congress, and how and where billions in federal dollars are disbursed to states and cities across the country.

With an undercount of Houston’s bustling immigrant and Hispanic communities, not only will the population be undercounted — it is likely that the region could see billions in federal funding taken away, since the population count plays a critical role in calculating funding ratios. This will have significant implications on the region’s ability to meet the demands of a rapidly growing population, as well as hamstring its ability to improve its resiliency in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

The concerns expressed by the region’s immigrant community in participating in the 2020 U.S. Census are very real and should be taken seriously. But a scenario where millions of the region’s immigrant and Hispanic communities is also a very real possibility and cannot come to fruition.

Because these communities are making noise across our region and our economy — it’s up to us to make sure that we continue to hear them.

Laura Murillo is president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


Download a full copy of the article as published by the Houston Business Journal