Texas Population Migrating out for First Time in 150 Year-History / as Result of Oil Decline

Article excerpt

HOUSTON - Long a magnet for families seeking economic opportunity, Texas appears to have begun to lose population to other states, probably for the first time in the 150 years since it gained independence from Mexico.

While firm numbers are not yet available, demographers say most indicators, such as postal deliveries and housing vacancies, point to the conclusion that Texas, the third most populous state, after California and New York, has become a net exporter of people as a result of the collapse of world oil prices.

The trend is a dramatic reversal for Texas, where relentless growth has long been almost as much a part of the mystique as gushers, swaggery oil men and longhorns.

Nearly every aspect of economic and social life in Texas has been touched by the migration change. Last week Faith West, a church on the once fast-growing west side of Houston, filed for bankruptcy protection, citing a drastic fall in membership. On any day 8,500 of the 17,000 hospital beds in Harris County, which inclu to continue.

Further, nearly one of every five apartments is vacant in the Houston area, and average apartment rents have fallen to $303 a month, about the lowest of any major city, according to Real Estate Valuations and Consultants. While not so heavily affected as Houston by the population slowdown, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio also find themselves greatly overbuilt, with property values and rents dropping in many areas.

Apart from neighboring states, Texans are moving mainly to California and Florida, as well as to such Northern industrial states as Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and New York, which were the sources of huge waves of migrants in Texas's boom years.

According to new forecasts by economists for the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas will incur a net out-migration of 41,000 people next year, assuming oil remains at an average price of slightly over $15 a barrel for the year.

Numerous experts say the tide has already turned. C.A. Kasdorf III, a demographer with the Houston Chamber of Commerce, estimates that 100,000 more people will have moved out of Texas than into the state from other states this year, with about half this loss coming from the hard-hit Houston area. By contrast, as recently as 1981-82, at the height of the oil boom, Texas experienced a net influx of nearly 400,000, according to the Census Bureau. …