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LONE STAR RISING

When will Texas surpass California as the most populous US state?

Handout of the space shuttle Endeavour, atop NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft at it flies over Houston
Reuters
The population of Texas is rocketing higher.
  • Dan Kopf
By Dan Kopf

Data editor

California has been the most populous state in the US since the 1960s. On current trends, that may not last much longer.

The US Census recently released estimates of population growth for US states from 2018 to 2019. The data showed that the population of California barely budged, growing by just 0.1%, to around 39.5 million people. This was the lowest rate of growth for California this decade, and suggests that the state’s population may start shrinking in the 2020s. California residents are leaving the state in droves, and many fewer people from elsewhere in the US come to replace them. The only reason the state’s population hasn’t already started shrinking is a large number international migrants.

In contrast, the population of Texas, the second-most populous state, grew by 1.3%. That was the fifth-fastest growth rate among states, taking Texas’s population to 29 million. Over the decade, the state’s population increased by about 4 million. This is partly because so many more people move from California to Texas (86,000 in 2018) than from Texas to California (38,000).

If Texas continues to expand at this rate, while California plateaus or even declines, the population of Texas could overtake California in the next several decades. For example, if Texas were to continue to grow by 1.3% per year, while California grew at 0.1%, Texas would pass California in 2045.

Predicting demographic trends is hard. At the moment, Texas is drawing people from across the US because of its fast-growing job market, relatively affordable housing, and low taxes. There are also a high number of births in the state because of a large, young Hispanic population now having children. If Texas changes its economic policies or the US puts greater restrictions on immigration, it could alter the state’s current trajectory. Climate change could also make Texas a less desirable place to live.

Still, Texas’s population may surpass California’s even earlier than 2045. California’s growth rates are much lower than demographers expected (pdf) not that long ago. In addition to its high cost of living, annual forest fires have made the state less attractive. Unless the Golden State reverses these trends, the Lone Star state is likely to take its crown as the most populous state sooner rather than later.

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