Klineberg at 35: Houston and America’s Future

Culture, Demographics, Economy, Education, Immigration, Science, Urban Affairs

Klineberg 35

Dr. Stephen Klineberg celebrates the 35th annual Kinder Houston Area Survey. Photo source: Twitter

It’s become tradition at this point, something as much a part of the landscape of Houston as barbecue, the Rodeo, and the Astros. This year marks the 35th annual Houston Area Survey, the yearly inquiry into the minds and the lives of our fellow Houstonians by Rice University and Dr. Stephen Klineberg. The long-running study is a demographer’s dream come true, a smorgasbord of insight into the changing landscape of one of America’s greatest and most dynamic cities. Dr. Klineberg is a good friend to many of us, and I always look forward to his insights and analysis on Houston as we lead America into the 21st century.

Today we are deep into election season, and we have polls being slung at us from every outfit, left and right, and so it’s important to be able to take a step back and appreciate surveys that tell us more than just who is winning the horserace.

Despite poll after poll showing Americans nationwide suffering from despair and malaise, Houston remains a bright spot. According to Dr. Klineberg, 81% of Houstonians rank our city as a “good to excellent” place to live. For whatever faults our city has, Houstonians are optimistic about their lives and the future of our region. Even with the recent slump in crude oil prices, nearly two-thirds of Houstonians say that they expect to be better off in the next several years, a testament to the diversity and robustness of our economy and workforce. By the same vein, nearly two-thirds of Houstonians rate job opportunities in the region as ‘good’ or ‘excellent.’ Although the crash in oil has slowed us down, it is a far cry from the economic catastrophe that was the 80’s crash.

If we are encouraged that Houston is still rich with opportunity, we are also chastened by the challenges that we face. Income inequality is a growing concern across the country, and it is no different in Houston. But the amazing thing is that we all seem to be aware of it – liberals and conservatives both. Since 2010, Dr. Klineberg has recorded substantial growth in the number of Houstonians who support direct action to reduce income inequality and policies to help people find gainful employment. Houstonians acknowledge the challenges that we are facing and are ready and willing to seek solutions.

Dr. Klineberg also cautions us that the number of Houstonians who have serious problems paying for groceries is growing, and that there remain many who have no health insurance. In fact, nearly one-fourth of all those surveyed by Dr. Klineberg and the Kinder Institute had total household incomes below $25,000.

The survey also shows us that Houstonians of all racial backgrounds consider education an important part of building a prosperous future. The clear majority of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Anglos all understand and value quality education. The challenge is how we provide that quality education for all Houston students. As the survey’s numbers keep telling us, our economic future depends on how well we educate our youngsters – particularly our Latino youngsters.

One of the greatest advantages of the Houston Area Survey is its longevity. With a lifespan of 35 years (and counting!) we have unique insights into the growth and changes in the population of our region that many demographers could only dream of. These numbers tell the story of our city’s tectonic growth in diversity, from oil and gas boomtown to a multicultural metropolis that is the most diverse in the US. The trends that we have seen here at home are slowly but surely being mirrored across Texas and the United States at large.

Houston provides the rest of our nation a window into the future, with increasing diversity and robust growth fueled by immigrant populations hailing from around the world. But being a leader in national trends also means we have the responsibility to seek solutions to emerging challenges and inequalities. While some politicians at the national level stoke fears of a changing and more diverse nation, and longstanding racial tensions run hot in other major cities, Houston presents a model of a city adjusting positively to its changing demography. Dr. Klineberg shows us that, over a range of measures, we view diversity and immigration increasingly positively, not just in Houston proper but across our region.

But as I said before, it is not enough to simply nod our heads and rub our chins thoughtfully when Dr. Klineberg speaks. That would be a disservice to his outstanding work. If the present Houston represents the future America, then it behooves us to confront the challenges of our time, for the rest of the country will draw lessons from our example. Leading the country in demographic trends demands that we lead the country in confronting challenges, like gross inequality, or our infamous traffic gridlock.  Dr. Klineberg has given us great insights into the shifts and trends of Houston, and it falls to all of us to use this knowledge to build a city that leads the country into the 21st Century.

Originally posted on the Houston Chronicle In the Loop Blog by Mustafa Tameez on May 3rd, 2016.