The 2020 survey results were all but thrown out completely—the Census called it an “experimental” release because it was, like everything else, so dramatically disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes the 2021 data all the more compelling for closer examination.
One demographic milestone has been captured by the 2021 estimates—Hispanics are now the dominant ethnic group in the state of Texas, surpassing the white non-Hispanic population and driving much of the population growth throughout the state. That shift has been years in the making, but other changes that occurred in 2021 were more abrupt.
In 2021, the four largest metropolitan areas in Texas combined added over half a million people compared to their prepandemic population level in 2019. Austin grew the fastest, adding almost 6% more people, and Dallas added the most in total, with more than 186,000 new residents.
Keep in mind, these figures represent a two-year population change (2020 and 2021) compared to 2019 levels. For example, Austin had added more than 125,000 residents in 2021 compared to 2019. This is about 62,500 each year, or about 10% more than in previous years on average, an uptick in their growth rate.
The Houston and Dallas metros experienced growth slowdowns in 2019, but Dallas then saw a surge in postpandemic growth, adding over 186,000 residents, or 93,240 per year in 2020 and 2021. Houston grew more modestly, adding about as many new residents on average in 2020 and 2021 as it did in 2019. San Antonio, meanwhile, added fewer residents postpandemic than it did in 2019.
Many big cities with pricey real estate lost residents seeking suburban outposts, and many of these movers ended up living in the same metropolitan area. In other words, despite the pandemic-fueled relocation spree, the net overall change for Texas metro areas may not have been disrupted much—though they did keep growing while other big metros across the US lost population.
The ACS estimates also show that some of Houston’s suburban counties grew faster than Harris County overall—Fort Bend and Montgomery counties in particular, which each added three times as many residents. By percentage, Liberty County was the fastest-growing Harris-adjacent county, adding over 9,000 newcomers, a 10% increase.
Income and housing
The pandemic created a particularly wild real estate situation, thanks to a combination of low interest rates and the option to work from home for hundreds of thousands of workers. At the same time, the Great Resignation and other workplace shifts meant that many workers were able to command better salaries. The expanded Child Tax Credit was also a significant boost to family incomes throughout 2021, though the credit has since returned to its prepandemic level.
The ACS shows that median incomes have been rising the fastest in Austin. In 2021 alone, the median income there rose by almost 7% since 2019, more than double the meager 2.5% increase in the Houston metro.
The ACS also captures information about mortgages held by a population. In Austin, for example, the median mortgage value jumped by almost 30% compared to the prepandemic level. These increases clearly reflect the jump in housing prices in 2021. As Austin's Board of Realtors reported, the metro's median home price increased 27% that year to $536,331. Mortgage holdings in the other major Texas metros jumped by about 15% or so.
This surge in price also came with many more new mortgages being held overall, according to ACS data. In 2021, the Houston metro has an estimated 107,000 more mortgages than it did in 2017, an increase of about 13% more households in five years carrying the debt that comes with homeownership.
Despite housing prices dropping this year, rising interest rates will make monthly housing costs less affordable going forward.
Work from home
Much more so than mask-wearing and social distancing, working from home is the pandemic trend that seems to have staying power.
According to ACS estimates, the number of at-home workers in Texas’ biggest metros tripled in 2021 compared to 2019, with close to 1.9 million people logging in from home. Of course, during the height of the pandemic in 2020, this number was likely much higher, but at the time of the ACS in 2021, workplace restrictions were being lifted and some people were returning to the office.
In raw numbers, Dallas added the most, with an estimated 788,000 remote workers compared to almost 250,000 in 2019, but Austin remained the dominant metro, with an estimated 1 in 3 workers based at home; even before the pandemic, Austin had twice the percentage of remote workers as its fellow metro areas in Texas. Keep in mind these figures represent metro areas; the central cities could have proportionally more or less working from home.
The increased work-from-home population led to big decreases in the number of “drive alone” commuters—many of whom were likely suburban commuters with jobs more easily suited for hybrid or full-time telecommuting. For a time, less congested roads seemed like a “new normal,” but the traffic has since returned, and so have car crashes and road deaths. The shift to more in-person work will surely affect these numbers again in the 2022 survey. Meanwhile, transit and other commuting methods also dropped during 2021, but to a lesser degree than single-occupant cars.
Even more 2021 data is slated to become available in the coming months, including tract-level details that our researchers will analyze for the 2023 State of Housing report.