Dallas in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Census 2000 confirms the Dallas area’s emergence as a destination for international immigrants. However, it also reveals that this transition has given rise to a growing social and economic divide among the city’s residents.

Dallas’s rapid population growth in the 1990s derives in large part from its significant immigration flow, which has made the city one of the nation’s most racially diverse. While the city lost white population in the 1990s, it gained over 200,000 Hispanic residents. Immigrants from Mexico now account for nearly three-fourths of the city’s foreign-born population. At the same time, Dallas is also an important gateway for workers and families from East and Southeast Asia. These inflows have made Dallas more youthful, and they are responsible for the large number of families with children who call the city home.

Unfortunately, Dallas also exemplifies our nation’s economic separation by race, despite the relatively high levels of work and low levels of poverty it enjoys. Annual household incomes for blacks and Hispanics trail those for whites by large margins. Underlying these income differences, meanwhile, persist large gaps in educational attainment by race—about half of all white and Asian adults in Dallas have a college degree, compared to only 14 percent of blacks and 7 percent of Hispanics. Families with children face particular challenges—more than a third live below or near the poverty line, and many populate the city’s growing class of moderate-income households. In the time since Census 2000 was conducted, moreover, unemployment in the city has risen, and economic differences by race and class are likely to have also widened.

Along these lines and others, then, Dallas in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 concludes that:

  • Dallas is growing, but decentralizing. Dallas’s population grew considerably in both the 1980s and 1990s. Only parts of the city participated in this growth in the last decade, however. Predominantly African American neighborhoods south of the downtown lost considerable population, for example, while neighborhoods around the fringes of the city grew by 10 percent or more. In fact, while the city’s population increased by 18 percent in the 1990s, population in its suburbs grew by an astounding 40 percent. To be sure, Dallas remains a fairly centralized employment market, with roughly half of the region’s workers traveling to jobs in the central city. Nevertheless, over 70 percent of city residents now drive alone to work.

  • Racial and ethnic diversity is on the rise in Dallas, thanks to the region’s recent emergence as an immigrant gateway. Hispanics accounted for roughly one in five Dallas residents in 1990; by 2000 more than one-third of the city’s population was of Hispanic origin. Driving this trend was a 131-percent increase in Dallas’s foreign-born population during the decade—the fourth-largest such rise among the 23 Living Cities. Nearly three-fourths of Dallas’s foreign-born come from Mexico; smaller numbers hail from Central American and Southeast Asian countries. Because 60 percent of the city’s foreign-born population arrived in the country in the last ten years, Dallas may face unique challenges in connecting these newcomers to the economic, political, and educational mainstream. One indicator in this regard: Only 19 percent of the city’s foreign-born are naturalized U.S. citizens, the lowest proportion among the 23 Living Cities.

  • Young adults and married couples loom large in Dallas. A large share of Dallas’s population is in its late twenties. Many members of this age group are recent immigrants to the U.S., evidenced by the fact that 25-to-29 year-old males outnumber females. In addition, married couples with children make up a relatively large proportion of Dallas households, now that younger Hispanics are starting families in the city. In contrast to most U.S. cities, the average household in Dallas grew in size during the 1990s. Still, most new married-couple families in the Dallas area, especially those without children, are locating in the suburbs. The city does hold appeal for young singles, though, as can be seen in its addition of more than 20,000 “nonfamily” households in the 1990s.

  • Educational attainment in Dallas exceeds the national average, but has begun to decline. Nearly 28 percent of Dallas adults possess a bachelor’s degree, higher than the national average. However, this proportion increased by only half a percentage point in the 1990s, compared to more than 4 percentage points in the average Living City. Meanwhile, the share of Dallas adults who have graduated from high school fell between 1990 and 2000—one of only a few cities in which this occurred. This trend reflects not only the scale of Latin American immigration to the city of Dallas, but also the location—and relocation—of more educated workers in other parts of the region. Providing avenues to higher education for minorities seems particularly pressing in light of the fact that the city’s whites and Asians are seven times as likely as its Hispanic residents to have a college degree.

  • Dallas’s overall economic profile did not improve substantially in the 1990s. Many Census 2000 economic indicators for Dallas are quite positive—participation in the labor force is relatively high, poverty declined, and the number of middle-class households rose. At the same time, though, median household income rose only marginally, the city’s homeownership rate fell, and the number of households earning only moderate incomes—between $18,000 and $34,000—grew rather dramatically. Behind these aggregate trends lie dramatic differences by race. In particular, the typical household income for blacks lags that for whites by $23,000; the Hispanic-white gap is $19,000. Neither black nor Hispanic homeownership advanced over the decade in Dallas. Meanwhile, rents rose in the city in the 1990s, increasing affordable housing needs for some, and making it harder for others to save for homeownership opportunities.

By presenting the indicators on the following pages, Dallas in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 is intended to give readers a better sense of where Dallas and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the city, its neighborhoods, and the entire Dallas region. Living Cities and the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy hope that this information will prompt a fruitful dialogue among city and community leaders about the direction Dallas should take in the coming decade.

Dallas Data Book Series 1

Dallas Data Book Series 2