|Poverty in Texas has continued to grow in recent years. Image from WebGovernments.|
The hidden history of Texas
Conclusion: 1996-2012/Final Section — Texas still ranks high in poverty and segregation by race and economic status and low in health care and education.
By Bob Feldman | The Rag Blog | June 19, 2013
[This is the final section of the conclusion to Bob Feldman’s Rag Blog series on the hidden history of Texas.]
Despite the surplus wealth accumulated by some ultra-rich folks in Texas between 1996 and 2011, the number of people living in poverty also continued to increase during these same years. The University of Texas’ Texas Politics website indicates the extent to which the economic, educational, and health care needs of large numbers of people in Texas are still not being met by Texas society in the 21st-century:
In 2007 Texas ranked second among all the states in the percent of its populace that was poor… The poverty rate for Texas in that year was 16.5 percent. The only other state that had higher poverty rates was Mississippi (20.1 percent)… Texas…clearly has the highest poverty rate of any large industrial state… Its poor population in absolute numbers: 3.934 million people… California…is the only state with a larger number of poor people…than Texas…
Texas therefore has both a large number of poor people and a high percentage of its population living in poverty. In 2007, Texas ranked 9th in the poverty rate for the elderly; it ranked 49th in the percentage of its adult population with a high school diploma; and it ranked first, at 24.4 percent, in the percent of the populace with no health insurance…
Of the Anglo population, 8.4 percent is poor, while 23.8 percent of the African-American and 24.8 percent of the Hispanic populations are poor. In other words, the rate of poverty among the two minority groups is three times greater than among the Anglo population… If we take the entire poor population of Texas (some 3.9 million people)…23.8 percent of all poor Texans are Anglo, and 15.8 percent are African-American, but well over half (53 percent) are Hispanic…
…in the entire United States, the two absolutely poorest [counties]… were both along the Texas-Mexico border — Cameron County and Hidalgo County… Cameron and Hidalgo were the only two counties in the United States with median household incomes under $25,000… Cameron and Hidalgo counties also had the highest poverty rates of any counties in the United States; each had a rate of about 41 percent…
El Paso had a poverty rate of 29 percent… Of the 10 poorest counties in the United States, Texas had El Paso (sixth) and Lubbock (tenth) in addition to Cameron and Hidalgo. Texas was the only state to have more than one of the poorest ten counties nation-wide…
And according to a recently-released report of Austin’s Center for Public Policy Priorities, titled “The State of Texas Children 2011,” 24 percent of all children in Texas and 22.2 percent of all children in Austin were now living in poverty in 2009, while the poverty level for the total population in Texas increased to 17.1 percent in 2009 (even before the state’s official jobless rate reached 8 percent in December 2010) and 16 percent of all people living in Austin were now economically impoverished.
A May 5, 2011, issue brief of the Economic Policy Institute, titled “Distressed Texas,” also noted that “the African-American unemployment rate in Texas rose from 8.1 percent at the beginning of the Great Recession to a high of 14.8 percent in the second quarter of 2010,” and “in 2010, 13.6 percent of African-Americans and 9.6 percent of Hispanics were unemployed, compared with 6.0 percent of white non-Hispanic Texans.”
And, according to “Ongoing Joblessness in Texas,” a May 16, 2013, report from the Economic Policy Institute, “In Texas, where the overall unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 (compared with a national average of 7.8 percent), African American and Hispanic families continue to bear the brunt of that economic pain.”
In a February 1, 2003, speech before the W.H. Passion Historical Society at Austin’s Southgate-Lewis House, former Austin SNCC activist Larry Jackson made the following observation about the extent of perceived white racism in 21st-century Austin, a town otherwise known as a progressive enclave:
Austin, Texas has been and still it is, I think, a place that is hung up in the late ’40s. I think Austin is a very racist city. Matter of fact, even though I have received a lot of the goodness that Austin offers, and I have been blessed, I find Austin to be a real racist place. And I was born in Hearne, Texas, and I know racism when I see it. And it is here [in Austin] greater than it exists anywhere else in this state.
And there’s just a different kind of a slave mentality here than just other places. There’s also more opportunity here than in most other places. But people here are so hell-bent on seeing themselves a little bit better than the people in Elgin and Giddings because that’s their yardstick. So you don’t have to be a lot better; all you have to be is just alive.
Though there are towns in Texas where racism is certainly more blatant, Austin is a very segregated city and is experiencing substantial displacement of blacks and Hispanics due to gentrification. More overt racism may be found elsewhere in the state, especially in towns like Vidor and Jasper in East Texas that have struggled to overcome histories of KKK-dominated racial violence.
An April 25, 2013, article in Business Insider on the 21 most segregated cities in the U.S. included only Houston (at 20th) among Texas cities. But an August 2, 2012, feature in the same publication, citing a study by the Pew Research Center, called Houston “America’s most economically segregated city,” citing that “Houston leads the way among the nation’s 10 largest metropolitan areas when it comes to affluent folks living among others who are affluent, and poor living with poor.”
In Houston, according to the article, “the percentage of upper-income households in census tracts with a majority of upper-income households increased from 7 in 1980 to 24 in 2010. Likewise, low-income households in majority low-income tracts jumped from 25 to 37.” Of the nation’s 30 top metropolitan areas, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas topped the Pew study’s “Residential Income Segregation Index.”
According to the Sentencing Project website’s most recent figures, for every 100,000 African-Americans who live in Texas, 3,162 are now imprisoned, while the rate of incarceration for white people in Texas is currently 667 per 100,000. And since 1995 the total number of people of all races locked up inside state and federal prisons in Texas has increased from 127,766 to 162,186 (including 11,620 female prisoners).
There are some positive signs on the horizon, with major demographic changes likely to transform the state’s political complexion. With rapid growth in youth, African-American, and Hispanic populations, and increased clout for the state’s urban areas, Texas is projected to change political colors in the next decade or two. As the Center for American Progress Action Fund put it, “changing demographics will have significant impact on [Texas’s] social, economic, and political landscape.”
But for now, as we enter the post-2012 period of Texas history (and a possible post-2017 “Perry Era” of right-wing political resurgence in U.S. history), the anti-democratic direction of recent Texas history has not been reversed and the people of the state continue to be economically exploited and politically dominated by the white corporate power structure and political establishment of Texas — which has been the story for the last 190 years of the hidden history of Texas.
[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]