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Harris County is the nation’s third most-populous county, with a population of 3,984,349.

The Gulf Coast region consists of 13 counties, nine of them in the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) of Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown. The metropolitan counties include Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller. (San Jacinto County is also in the MSA, but is not included in the Comptroller’s Gulf Coast region.)

The non-metro counties are Colorado, Matagorda, Walker and Wharton. As defined by the federal government, an MSA is a core urban area of 50,000 or more residents accompanied by adjacent communities that have a high degree of economic and social interaction with that core (as measured by commuting to and from work).1 Exhibit 12 illustrates the region’s counties and their county seats.

Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown MSA is the nation’s sixth-largest metro area and the second-largest in Texas, with an estimated population of 5,728,143 people in 2008, or nearly a quarter of the state population. Harris County is the nation’s third most-populous county, with a population of 3,984,349. The county accounts for 70 percent of the MSA population and 68 percent of the Gulf Coast regional population.2

Exhibit 12

Gulf Coast Region Metro Counties

see alternative

Sources: Office of Management and Budget and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

View metro counties description.

Exhibit 13

Gulf Coast Region Population Growth, 2000-2008

see alternative

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

View population growth description.

Population Growth

The region’s population rose by an estimated 20.8 percent between 2000 and 2008, led by strong growth in Fort Bend, Montgomery and Brazoria counties. Fort Bend County was the nation’s 20th-fastest growing county during this period, with 50.1 percent growth, while Montgomery County ranked 30th with a 46.4 percent increase. In all, the counties comprising the Houston MSA increased their populations by 21.5 percent while the populations of the region’s four non-metro counties rose by just 1.1 percent (Exhibit 13).3

From 2007 to 2008, the Houston metro area experienced the nation’s second-largest total population increase, adding 130,185 people; Harris County had the second-largest total increase among all U.S. counties, adding 72,153 people.4

The population of the Gulf Coast region increased by an annual average of 2.4 percent from 2000 to 2008, compared to 1.9 percent in Texas. In the year following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the population in the region increased by 182,031, or 3.3 percent, with Harris County adding 123,357 residents, representing 67.8 percent of the region’s total increase. Comparatively, the region’s previous year population increase was 110,374, or 2.1 percent. In that year Harris County added 62,384 residents, or 56.5 percent of the region’s overall increase.

By 2007, Gulf Coast population growth decreased to 2.0 percent; consistent with years prior to Hurricane Katrina (Exhibit 14).11

In the year following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the population in the region increased by 182,031, or 3.3 percent, with Harris County adding 123,357 residents.

Exhibit 14

Annual Population Percent Change

see alternative

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

View population change description.

The components of population change – natural increase due to births and net domestic and international migration – differ across the region. For example, international migration accounted for 41 percent (or 241,196 persons) of Harris County’s population growth from 2000 to 2008, more than compensating for 95,176 domestic residents – residents moving within the U.S. – that moved out of the county in that period. This domestic out-migration was the second-largest in the state behind Dallas County, which had a net decline of 261,208 domestic residents.

Fort Bend County added 123,903 domestic residents from 2000 to 2008, the third-largest increase of domestic migrants in the state, while Montgomery County had the fifth-largest increase with 101,221 added residents (Exhibit 15).12

In the year following Hurricane Katrina, Harris County experienced a net gain of about 40,000 domestic residents, compared to net loss of more than 31,000 from 2003-04 and nearly 26,000 from 2004-05. The Gulf Coast region added 85,535 domestic residents in the year following Hurricane Katrina, compared to a net increase of 8,186 in the previous year.

From 2007 to 2008, net internal migration increased, mostly due to a smaller net loss of domestic residents in Harris County (Exhibit 16). In that period, Harris County experienced only a 1,835 net loss of domestic residents.13

Exhibit 15

Cumulative Population Change Estimates, Gulf Coast Counties, 2000-2008

Geographic Area Natural Increase (Births Minus Deaths) Net Migration International Net Migration Domestic Total Net Migration Total Population Change
Austin County 549 435 2,393 2,828 3,261
Brazoria County 21,959 5,162 33,156 38,318 59,277
Chambers County 1,337 386 1,750 2,136 3,325
Colorado County 176 533 -251 282 365
Fort Bend County 37,610 13,608 123,903 137,511 177,689
Galveston County 13,893 5,904 19,752 25,656 38,081
Harris County 380,857 241,196 -95,176 146,020 583,759
Liberty County 3,202 778 1,508 2,286 5,174
Matagorda County 1,594 1,134 -3,272 -2,138 -692
Montgomery County 25,619 8,633 101,221 109,854 136,186
Walker County 1,686 741 269 1,010 2,455
Waller County 2,331 750 389 1,139 3,333
Wharton County 1,989 888 -3,072 -2,184 -397
Gulf Coast Region 492,802 280,148 182,570 462,718 1,011,816
Texas 1,884,947 851,909 711,785 1,563,694 3,475,163

Note: Total population change may not equal the sum of natural increase and net migration. The difference includes a residual, which represents the change in population that cannot be attributed to any specific demographic component.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Exhibit 16

Gulf Coast Region, Annual Net Migration

see alternative

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

View net migration description.

Exhibit 17

2008 Population by Ethnicity, U.S., Texas and Gulf Coast Region

see alternative

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

View population by ethnicity description.


The Gulf Coast region was 42.7 percent white in 2008, followed by Hispanics at 33.9 percent, blacks at 16.5 percent and Asians at 5.5 percent. The remaining 1.4 percent fell in the “other” category, including American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander and those claiming descent from two or more races. Exhibit 17 compares the Gulf Coast region’s ethnic distribution to that of the state and U.S.

From 2000 to 2008, the white population rose by 6 percent, well below the region’s overall growth of 20.8 percent. As a result, the share of white population fell from 48.7 percent in 2000 to 42.7 percent in 2008.

The Hispanic population rose by 42.9 percent from 2000 to 2008, increasing its Gulf Coast share from 28.6 percent to 33.9 percent. The black population increased by 18.7 percent overall (maintaining its 16.5 percent share), and Asians rose by 39.0 percent. The “other” ethnicities increased by 57.8 percent. Forty percent of Texas’ Asian population resides in the Gulf Coast region.

The black population increased significantly following Hurricane Katrina, adding 62,000 residents, compared to 14,300 in the previous year. The percent growth of the black population spiked 7.0 percent from 2005 to 2006, up from 1.6 in the previous year.

While the “other” population only represents 1.4 percent of the population, it is the fastest growing ethnic demographic in the region. From 2007 to 2008, this demographic increased by 5.5 percent. Hispanics increased 4.3 percent, followed by Asians with 4.1 percent growth. Blacks increased 1.5 percent, similar to growth in years prior to Hurricane Katrina. The white population increased 0.7 percent during this period (Exhibit 18).24

Exhibit 18

Annual Population Percent Change by Race, Gulf Coast Region

see alternative

Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

View population by percent change by race description.


The age distribution of the Gulf Coast population closely mirrors that of the state. Nearly 38 percent of both the region’s and the state’s residents are under the age of 25, above the U.S. distribution of 34.1 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, 8.4 percent of Gulf Coast residents are above the age of 65, compared to 10.2 percent in Texas and 12.8 percent in the U.S. (Exhibit 19). In the region’s non-metro counties, 37.2 percent of the population is under the age of 25, while 13.1 percent are 65 years and over.25

Texas is the second-youngest state in the U.S., with a median age of 33.2 years. The median age of Houston is slightly younger, at 32.8 years. The U.S. median age, by contrast, is 36.8 years.26

Exhibit 19

2008 Population by Age, U.S., Texas and Gulf Coast Region

see alternative

Source: Economic Modeling Specialists Inc.

View population by age description.

Exhibit 20

2008 Educational Attainment of Persons Above the Age of 25, U.S., Texas and Gulf Coast Region

see alternative

Source: Economic Modeling Specialists Inc.

View educational attainment description.

Educational Attainment

The Gulf Coast’s share of residents with a post-secondary degree is 32 percent which is lower than that of the U.S., at 33 percent. The Texas share is at 30.5 percent. The region’s share of residents without a high school diploma is the same as the state’s at 21 percent, compared to 16 percent in the U.S. (Exhibit 20).27


The Gulf Coast region’s unemployment rate was 8.3 percent in December 2009, slightly higher than the state rate of 8 percent but well below the U.S. rate of 9.7 percent. The region’s unemployment rate rose by almost half from December 2008 to December 2009 (Exhibit 21).

The total number of unemployed workers in the region increased by 52.1 percent over this 12-month period, from 159,453 to 242,559, topping the state increase of 44.2 percent.33

Exhibit 21

Gulf Coast Region December Unemployment Rates

Area 2008 2009
Austin County 4.7% 8.1%
Brazoria County 6.0% 9.0%
Chambers County 6.7% 10.3%
Colorado County 4.6% 6.4%
Fort Bend County 5.1% 8.1%
Galveston County 7.6% 8.9%
Harris County 5.5% 8.3%
Liberty County 7.2% 11.1%
Matagorda County 8.2% 11.8%
Montgomery County 4.8% 7.6%
Walker County 5.4% 7.1%
Waller County 5.4% 8.9%
Wharton County 4.8% 8.1%
Gulf Coast Region 5.6% 8.3%
Texas 5.7% 8.0%
U.S. 7.1% 9.7%

Note: Unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted.
Source: Texas Workforce Commission


The median income for all Texas households was $50,049 in 2008 (most recent data available). The region’s median household incomes ranged from $38,244 in Walker County to $83,968 in Fort Bend County. The ten counties of the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown MSA had the highest median household incomes in the region, ranging from $48,374 to $83,968 (Exhibit 22).39

In 2007, the Gulf Coast region’s average personal income eclipsed the state average by 24 percent, at $45,968 versus $37,083, respectively. Once again, the counties of the Houston metro area brought up the average, particularly Harris County, where the average personal income was $49,634 (at least 16 percent higher than in any other county).

Waller County led the region in per capita income growth, with a 34.7 percent rise from 1997 to 2007. Harris County followed with 31.0 percent growth. In all, the region’s per capita personal income rose by 28.1 percent between 1997 and 2007, compared to 21.5 percent for the state as a whole (Exhibit 23).40

Exhibit 22

2008 Gulf Coast Region Socioeconomic Indicators

Area Median Household Income
Percent of
Population in Poverty
Percent of Population Under Age 18 in Poverty, 2008
U.S. $52,029 13.2% 18.2%
Texas $50,049 15.8% 22.5%
Fort Bend County $83,968 8.0% 10.2%
Chambers County $66,033 9.1% 12.8%
Montgomery County $65,801 9.4% 13.2%
Brazoria County $63,959 9.6% 12.5%
Galveston County $57,950 11.9% 16.1%
Harris County $52,391 15.3% 22.6%
Waller County $50,653 15.5% 21.1%
Austin County $49,721 10.6% 14.9%
Liberty County $48,374 16.3% 22.8%
Wharton County $41,678 16.3% 23.6%
Matagorda County $40,578 18.0% 27.0%
Colorado County $39,441 17.9% 25.2%
Walker County $38,244 23.5% 22.4%

Note: Gulf Coast region counties are ranked by 2008 median household income.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Exhibit 23

Gulf Coast Region, Per Capita Personal Income (In 2007 Dollars)

see alternative

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis.

View personal income description.

Such comparisons, however, do not account for differences in living costs. A cost-of-living adjustment facilitates a more accurate comparison of income. For example, a person from Huntsville (Walker County) making the county median income of $38,244 in 2008 had the same purchasing power as someone in Houston (Harris County) making an income of $44,467, a difference of 16 percent. In Richmond (Fort Bend County), where living costs were 17 percent higher than in Huntsville, an income of $44,562 in 2008 would have yielded an equivalent purchasing power.41

St. Vincent’s House Free Clinic, Galveston

PHOTO: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston


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