San Antonio in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000

November 1, 2003

Executive Summary

Dominated by younger families still moving up the economic ladder, San Antonio emerges in Census 2000 as one of the fastest-growing and most Hispanic cities in the nation.

The city’s rapid growth in the 1980s and 1990s derives primarily from its large and growing Latino population. Some of these individuals are recent immigrants from Mexico, but many have been in the U.S. for a long period of time. The young age of the city’s Latinos helps account for the large number of children and married couples who call San Antonio home. Increasingly, though, San Antonio’s households are settling in neighborhoods at the city’s edge, while neighborhoods in the urban core depopulate amid fast growth citywide.

Economically, San Antonio is maturing in much the same way as its young population. Median household income grew significantly in the 1990s, and child poverty declined rapidly. Unemployment is fairly low, and the share of adults in the labor force resembles the national average. Still, because rates of higher educational attainment among the city’s Latino adults lag national averages, the bulk of San Antonio’s households earn only low-to-middle incomes. While more than half of the city’s households own their homes, the largest homeownership gains in the 1990s accrued to whites and Asians. The future of San Antonio’s middle class may rest largely on the progress of the city’s Latino and African American households, who typically earn only moderate incomes compared to other groups.

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

  • San Antonio is one of the fastest-growing places in the United States. Between 1980 and 2000, the City of San Antonio grew by 45 percent, the second-fastest growth among the 23 Living Cities. In contrast to most other cities, San Antonio actually grew faster than its suburbs, and the bulk of metro area residents continue to live within the geographically large central city. The vast majority of the region’s workers commute to jobs in the city, though three in four drive alone to work. At the same time, population is decentralizing within San Antonio’s own borders. While most neighborhoods around the urban fringe grew rapidly during the 1990s, many minority neighborhoods south of downtown lost significant population.

  • Latinos make up nearly 60 percent of the population. San Antonio has the second-largest proportion of Latino residents among the 23 Living Cities, and they accounted for more than three-fourths of the city’s population growth during the 1990s. Recent immigration to San Antonio, primarily from Mexico, accounted for some of this growth—the city’s foreign-born population increased by more than half over the decade. Yet Mexican immigrants in San Antonio total only 97,000, while the city’s Latino population stands at 670,000. Thus, most Latino growth in the 1990s resulted from births to existing residents, or Latinos elsewhere in the U.S. resettling in San Antonio.

  • Children and married couples loom large in San Antonio. In most large cities, people in their 20s and 30s make up the largest age groups. San Antonio, by contrast, has nearly as many people aged under 20 as it has people aged 20 to 40. Thus, younger families predominate in San Antonio. Most of the city’s children live with two parents, and nearly half of its households contain a married couple—the highest proportion among the Living Cities. In contrast to other fast-growing cities in the Southwest, most San Antonio residents have lived in the city for a number of years. This suggests that many San Antonio settlers from decades past have chosen to raise their families in the city.

  • Educational attainment in San Antonio lags the national average, but is rising. Less than 22 percent of San Antonio adults hold a bachelor’s degree, below the averages for large cities and the nation. Latinos hold college degrees at a lower rate (11 percent) than the city’s African Americans (17 percent) and whites (37 percent). Yet the proportions of adults with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees rose significantly in the 1990s, suggesting that San Antonio may be “catching up” with its large-city peers. Because San Antonio also lags other cities in college/university enrollment, broadening access to higher education for the city’s residents takes on even greater importance.

  • San Antonio’s economic profile improved in the 1990s, though large numbers of the city’s families earn only moderate incomes. Households in each part of the income distribution increased in number in San Antonio during the 1990s. Because higher-income households grew fastest, the city’s median household income increased by 14 percent—the sixth-fastest rise among the 23 Living Cities. Poverty rates declined significantly, especially for children. Even in the midst of the current economic downturn, unemployment in San Antonio remains relatively low. Still, many of the city’s families struggle to make ends meet—almost half of San Antonio’s households earn less than $34,000 annually. These lower-income families are disproportionately minorities, as Latinos and black households typically earn $17,000 less annually than white households.

  • Homeownership rose in San Antonio during the 1990s, and the city remains relatively affordable for renters. San Antonio experienced a considerable rise in its homeownership rate during the 1990s, and 58 percent of its residents owned their own homes in 2000. Significantly, homeownership increased for all racial and ethnic groups, although whites and Asians made larger gains than African Americans and Latinos. Rapid population growth led to a 13 percent increase in rents, but units remain relatively affordable in San Antonio. Housing costs burden 36 percent of the city’s renters, a lower proportion than in 18 out of the 23 Living Cities.

By presenting the indicators on the following pages, San Antonio in Focus: A Profile from Census 2000 seeks to give readers a better sense of where San Antonio and its residents stand in relation to their peers, and how the 1990s shaped the city, its neighborhoods, and the entire San Antonio 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 San Antonio should take in the coming decade.

San Antonio Data Book Series 1

San Antonio Data Book Series 2