By The Dallas Morning News
If you believe in the Texas miracle, as we do, you might want to hear about an under-reported trend now unfolding in our state.
In broad terms, there are only a handful of ways to expand an economy. One involves increasing productivity, such as developing new technologies or shifting workers to higher-skilled vocations. Another is to increase the number of people who are working.
For years, Texas has done both. But a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas indicates that the flow of new workers to the Lone Star State is slowing, and for years, that influx has been fueling our rapid growth.
Workers, of course, move to Texas from around the country and around the world. Both categories are important, and one has declined sharply while the other has hit a plateau.
Last year, Texas added almost 190,000 migrants, which approaches the number of newborns. But total migration was one-third lower than in 2015 due to a steep drop in cross-state relocations. Other regional economies are improving and baby boomers are retiring, so fewer U.S. workers have to go to Texas to chase their dreams.
Since 2000, the net increase from migration — that is, the difference between those moving in and those moving out — has averaged about 200,000 people a year.
These migrants usually move for jobs and often bring strong skills and academic credentials. Compared with the Texas population, transplants from New York, California and Illinois are much more likely to have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
The education gap is greater with certain foreign-born workers. Over three-quarters of Texas immigrants from India have at least a college degree, as do over half from China, Korea and Canada. Among Texans, just over 1 in 4 has a bachelor’s or higher.
Foreign-born workers account for over half the state’s medical scientists, 45 percent of software developers and one-third of physicians and engineers, according to the Dallas Fed. They’re also a major source of low-skilled labor. Hailing largely from Mexico and Central America, they make up over half the state’s painters, housekeepers and construction laborers.
Since 2000, immigrants accounted for about 40 percent of the growth in the state’s workforce. So as Pia Orrenius, a Dallas Fed senior economist and coauthor of the report, put it: “There wouldn’t be a Texas miracle without immigration.”
And that raises a fundamental question: Today, with the flow of foreign workers slowing down and domestic newcomers in decline, how can Texas keep expanding its skilled workforce and keep leading the nation in economic growth?
One of the best ways is to nurture our own. We have to increase the number of Texans who earn a college degree or postsecondary certificate. Such progress would lift many families out of poverty while stoking the economy, regardless of the trend among migrants.
One way or another, Texas needs all the talent it can get.
The Dallas Morning News