Slowing population growthHouston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce • Jun 22, 2019
Slowing population growth another challenge to Houston’s economy
The Houston area’s population growth — a key driver of the local economy — slowed to a crawl last year as stricter immigration policies discouraged foreign migration while a strong national economy provided little incentive for workers to leave home for better prospects here, economists and business leaders said.
The population in Harris County grew by less than 1 percent in 2018, increasing at about half the average annual rate of 1.7 percent over the past decade, according to data released by the Census Thursday. More people left the county for other U.S. regions than came here, according to the data, while fewer people from foreign countries arrived.
The slowing population growth comes as the Houston area’s unemployment rate has fallen to a historic low of 3.5 percent, adding to a labor shortage that is making it harder for companies to find workers and expand.
“In the past we’ve talked about a labor shortage,” said Jacob Monty, a labor and immigration attorney in Houston and a board member of the Texas Association of Business, a business advocacy group, “We are looking at a labor crisis. There aren’t enough workers.”
Harris County’s population, about 4.7 million, has barely increased in each of the past two years. Economists attribute that in part to lingering effects of the oil bust that ended in 2016, which forced people to find work elsewhere, and Hurricane Harvey, which hit the next year. Many families who lost homes during the devastating storm relocated.
More recently, a strong national economy has made Houston a less attractive place to move, analysts said.
“Every metropolitan area in the U.S. is doing well now, so people don’t have to leave home to find a job,” said Patrick Jankowski, an economist at the Greater Houston Partnership. “That makes it more difficult for Houston to find that talent.”
Not moving to Houston
Population growth is a driver of economic growth, not only because it provides workers, but because it generates business activity — and jobs — as newcomers buy homes, cars and other goods and services. But net domestic migration, or people moving here from other U.S. cities minus those leaving, has turned negative in the last three years. In 2018, nearly 44,000 more people left Harris County for other areas of the U.S. than moved here, according to the data.
Those losses have been offset by foreign immigration. In 2018, more foreign migrants moved into Harris County than any other county in the nation, except for Dade County, Fla., where Miami is located. That migration, however, is slowing. Last year, net foreign migration slipped to 44,500 immigrant from 48,000 in 2015, a decline of more than 7 percent.
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Houston’s economy relies on a steady flow of immigrants and trade to keep it growing, more than almost any other metropolitan region in the U.S., a report by the Greater Houston Partnership recently found. In 2017, foreign-born workers contributed $142.1 billion to the local economy, equivalent to 29 percent of the region’s economic output, according to the analysis.
“Growth has occurred because of this population,” said Laura Murillo, president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a business-financed economic development group. “They’re the ones going to the restaurants, they’re the ones working in the restaurants, and keep our economy growing. We can't afford to ignore that.”
Slowing Hispanic population growth
Harris County is one of the most diverse large counties in the nation; 43 percent of the population was Hispanic in 2018, the latest data shows, the seventh highest share for counties greater than a million people.
But the growth in the county’s Hispanic population is also slowing. Last year, Harris County’s Hispanic population increased by 1.6 percent, down by about half from its rate four years ago.
Local business leaders attributed the slowdown to tightening immigration policies under President Donald Trump’s administration, which may have caused Hispanic workers, particularly those who are undocumented, to leave the state or opt not to move here.
Houston’s Hispanic population accounted for 95 percent of population growth in Harris County last year. Seeing the demographic group continue to grow is particularly important to employers who are finding it more difficult each month to find workers to fill jobs, local business leaders said.
“We don’t have workers to hire now,”said Stan Marek, an executive at MAREK, a Houston construction company founded 80 years ago. “We have an incredible labor shortage, and if they’re Latino, they’re leaving to go to states that are more welcoming. Texas has become a very unwelcoming state for Latinos and immigrants in general, and I think that’s very bad for business.”
Jankowski, the economist at Greater Houston Partnership, added that it’s not only construction that’s affected by the ebbs and flows of immigration.
“When you have international migration, it’s an influx of talent,” Jankowski said. “For every construction worker that comes to town, there’s a doctor. International migration provides both the brawn and the brains we need to grow the economy.”
Young, hip Houston
An aging population is another concern in a tight labor market. As baby boomers reach retirement age, more positions are opening with fewer young employees to replace them. But that’s less of a problem in Houston, one of the youngest regions in the country.
The average Harris County resident is 34 years old, four years younger than the national average.
In Texas, the median age is 35, making it the third-youngest state in the country. The state was the third-most popular destination for immigrants in the country, behind Florida and California.
As published by the Houston Chronicle https://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/economy/article/Slowing-population-growth-another-challenge-ot-14021444.php