Latinos in Texas reached an important demographic milestone in June when new data from the U.S. Census Bureau officially showed that the rapidly growing community had overtaken the state’s white population to become Texas’s largest ethnic group.
The newly released data shows Latinos now make up 40.2 percent of the Lone Star State’s population compared to a white population of 39.8 percent. Black and Asian Texans account for an additional 13 percent and 6 percent of the state’s population respectively, with smaller groups making up the balance.
News that Latinos are now the largest demographic group in the nation’s second largest state heralds a landmark moment for a community that nationwide is growing quickly. Latinos are already the largest single ethnic group in California, the most populous state in the country, and New Mexico.
But for Latino Texans, the milestone also shines a somber spotlight on the degree to which they still lag behind white Texans in both political and economic power, as a result of things like gerrymandering and chronic under-investment in Latino communities.
Still, the magnitude of the moment is nothing short of breathtaking. In 2000, Latinos were a mere 32 percent of Texas’s population compared to the 52 percent of Texans who were white. In each of the subsequent two decades, however, the Latino population powered ahead at a double-digit rate of growth, while the state’s aging white population grew at a much more modest — and progressively slowing — pace.
The quick pace of demographic change in Texas will almost certainly accelerate in coming years. Since 2020, the Latino population in Texas has grown at more than six times the rate of the state’s white population, even though international immigration, historically a key component of Latino population growth in Texas, has been much reduced in recent years.
A major reason for continuing rapid Latino growth is that Latinos are not only Texas’s largest ethnic group but also its youngest. The current median age for Latino Texans is just 28, far younger than white Texans. Among school-age Texans, nearly half are Latino while just 29 percent are white. This is almost exactly the inverse of older Texans. Sixty percent of Texans between the ages of 65 and 84 are white while just 24 percent are Latino.
In coming years, as older, disproportionately white Texans pass from the scene, Texas is poised to undergo an even swifter demographic transformation, looking on track to becoming a Latino majority state by mid-century, if not sooner.
But it takes more than raw population numbers to reach parity with the state’s white population, and Latino Texans continue to lag white Texans in political and economic clout, often by discriminatory design.
Last decade, Latinos accounted for half the state’s population growth, but when Texas lawmakers redrew the state’s congressional and legislative maps after the 2020 census, they shockingly failed to create any new Latino electoral opportunities in the metro areas where Latino communities are growing the most rapidly. Latino groups have challenged this omission in court, but litigation and appeals could take years to wind their way through courts.
The lack of Latino representation is especially notable in North Texas. The booming Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex is now the country’s fourth most populous region and home to more Latinos than the entire state of Colorado. But the gigantic super region still lacks any Latino representation in either the U.S. House of Representatives or state senate.
Indeed, Texas does not have a single Latino congressional or state senate district anywhere north of Austin, thanks to discriminatory electoral district lines that slice and dice growing Latino communities to preserve power for those who currently hold it.
Other significant obstacles also remain. In 2021, the median household income for Latino Texans was $54,857 compared to $81,384 for white Texans. Latinos Texans also remain much more likely to live in poverty and to lack health insurance than their white counterparts.
And although the latest freshman class at the University of Texas at Austin for the first time has a narrow Latino plurality, Latinos still remain less likely to graduate from high school or attend college than other Texans.
News that Latinos are now the state’s largest ethnic group is a rightly celebrated milestone. But it also is a much needed reminder for Texas and the country as a whole about just how far there is to go to ensure that its burgeoning and dynamic Latino population has the full seat at the table it deserves. The future of Texas, and the nation, depends on it.