Checking in on my hometown(s)

I’m on vacation this week visiting family in Raleigh, so I thought I would check in on what the recently released 2020 population data had to say about my hometown.

Well, adopted hometown, or perhaps one of a few hometowns. I may have been raised among Southerners, as if the accent doesn’t give it away; got to Texas as fast as I could, as they say; but I will forever be from someplace else.

Raleigh is among the fastest growing areas in the country. So for context, I used Austin and Nashville, the only two other cities I have lived in for more than two consecutive years, not counting college (Chapel Hill) or my birthplace (Kingston, NY). Hopefully I’ll be able to add Edinburg to this list next year.

There are reasonable concerns about the impact of the pandemic on recent Census products, including the 2020 population counts. But let’s assume they are accurate–or at least inaccurate in equal measure across these cities–and let’s also throw in some 2019 income data, given all the recent debate about what’s driving home prices.

Here are five things I learned:

1. Raleigh is nearly half a million residents. The Raleigh metro area surpassed a million residents about fifteen years ago, but the population within the city limits is approaching its own landmark. The city’s population was 467,665 in 2020, and if current trends hold, it should reach 500,000 by 2025.

2. People of color reportedly made up 95% of statewide population growth in Texas, but not so in Austin. Tracking race/ethnicity changes in Census data is becoming more challenging, but this one still stood out to me. White Alone, Not Hispanic or Latino residents made up 47% of the city’s population in 2020, down slightly from 49% in 2010, but they were a much larger share of growth in the Austin city limits compared to the state or larger metropolitan areas. In fact, four out of every ten new people in the city identified as White Alone, Not Hispanic or Latino, nearly double that of people identifying as Hispanic or Latino or Asian Alone, Not Hispanic or Latino. Austin’s Hispanic or Latino population grew by only 13%, compared to 60% in Nashville and 32% in Raleigh. It’s a much larger number of residents in Austin, but still, that’s quite a contrast from the narrative about statewide trends.

3. Austin gained Black residents. Nashville may be losing them. Several years ago, a report by Dr. Tang at UT-Austin found that Austin was the only fast-growing, large city in the country losing Black residents, underscoring the long-running community debate about gentrification and equity. While still declining as a share of the total population, although not as fast as the White Alone, Not Hispanic or Latino share, Austin’s Black Alone, Not Hispanic or Latino population grew by about 5,200 residents (9%) and now totals about 66,000 people. In fact, Austin’s net gain in Black Alone, Not Hispanic or Latino residents even outpaced Raleigh, where people identifying as Black Alone, Not Hispanic or Latino make up 26% of the total population. Nashville was a different story. Nashville’s Black Alone, Not Hispanic or Latino population declined by about 1,500 residents.

4. It pays to have a graduate degree in Austin. In fact, it may be the only way to keep up with cost of living there. A high school graduate can expect similar (median) earnings in Austin, Nashville, and Raleigh, at about $30,000/yr. Same goes for bachelor’s degree holders in Austin and Raleigh, in the range of $56,000-$57,000. Nashville earnings start to diverge at that level, where workers with bachelor’s degrees have median earnings of about $52,000. Now, here are median earnings for workers with graduate or professional (e.g., law) degrees:

Austin: $73,759

Raleigh: $67,265

Nashville: $62,259

If a difference of $6,500 doesn’t sound like much, consider it this way: It’s about $500 more you can put toward rent in Austin, where the average rent now exceeds $1,600 per month.

5. In the words of a late-great, the Californication of Austin has reached a milestone. If you have spent time in both places, it may be hard to believe. But not that long ago, incomes in Raleigh were higher than in Austin. And you don’t have to go back much further to a time when the same was true for Nashville. Not so today.

Mean household income in Austin is now $107,091, and 11.7% of households have income of $200,000 or more. Mr. Kelso, if you are out there somewhere and reading this, you may want to stop, right about now.

Mean household income:

  • Austin $107,091
  • Los Angeles $103,011

Share of households with income of $200,000 or more:

  • Austin 11.7%
  • Los Angeles 11.5%

Leave a comment if you have lived in or visited these cities. I’d be interested in what you’ve seen or experienced in terms of similarities or differences, or how they have changed over time relative to each other.

You don’t even need to be from there.