As Tarrant County’s population has grown in the past decade, so, too, has its racial and ethnic diversity. But that diversity is greater in suburban areas rather than urban ones, experts observed from the latest census data.
The county’s population increased 16.7% in the past decade, reaching 2.1 million people in 2020. Though white non-Hispanic is still the largest racial or ethnic group in Tarrant County at 904,884 people, that population has decreased 3.4% since the 2010 census.
Kyle Walker, Texas Christian University’s director of urban studies, said the census showed the white population was increasing only in “gentrifying urban cores,” like the Fairmount-South Side Historic District. Greater diversity is in newer suburban developments like those off of Chisholm Trail Parkway and to the south of the city toward Crowley, he said.
“The typical idea about suburbs is that they’re sort of homogenous and segregated,” Walker said. “Those places do exist. But really the areas where you have racial and ethnic mixing tend to be outside of Loop 820.”
The urban core tends to have racially segregated low-income and high-income areas, with fewer middle-income housing options, Walker said.
“Outside of the Loop, you have upwardly mobile individuals of all racial and ethnic backgrounds who are potentially not able to afford the really exclusive, high-dollar neighborhoods (in the urban core). But they aren’t interested in living in the higher poverty neighborhoods,” Walker said.
Suburbs tend to be newer as well, so the neighborhoods don’t have the same history of racial and income segregation that older neighborhoods in the urban core might, he said.
Shift in the white population
In 2016, white non-Hispanics were below the replacement rate — where deaths exceed births — for the first time in U.S. history. But there’s not yet agreement among experts on whether the white non-Hispanic population is in decline, Walker said.
The 2020 census expanded on options for how respondents could racially identify themselves. It was the first census to allow individuals who choose white or Black to include their origins, such as German, African American, Somali, etc.
“In the past, people only had a certain number of boxes, and they picked the one that best fits them,” Walker said. “But maybe it didn’t fully characterize them. Maybe this is just revealing that we were actually more diverse all along.”
Hispanics are the second-largest racial or ethnic group in the county with a population of 620,907. But at 28.6%, Hispanics are growing at a slower rate than any other group. Percent changes tend to be higher in smaller populations.
The greatest percent increase was among “other” non-Hispanic at 234%, followed by two or more non-Hispanic at 158.3%, Asian non-Hispanic at 53.3%, Native Hawian/Pacific Islander at 41.2% and Black non-Hispanic at 36.6% increase.
American Indian and Alaskan Native were the only other group along with non-Hispanic white to decrease at -0.1%.
Moving to the suburbs
People have long been moving out of cities because the land is cheaper in the suburbs, and people can build bigger houses, said Luis Torres, a research economist at the Texas Real Estate Research. But the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this movement. More people are working from home, lessening their concerns about commuting and increasing their desire for more space, he said.
Creating more middle-income housing in the urban core that is comparable to what is available in the suburbs in the urban core is difficult, Torres said. It would be costly for the city or county to purchase land, provide tax incentives and subsidize programs to provide middle-income housing.
Is Fort Worth the 12th or 13th largest city?
Based on the 2020 population count, Fort Worth is the 13th-largest city in the U.S. But it’s likely it’s the 12th-largest city now. The Census Bureau releases a population count every 10 years, where it surveys entire populations. In between those counts, it releases estimates, where the bureau estimates the entire population by surveying a sample of the population rather than counting each individual. So while Fort Worth is the 13th-largest city based on the 2020 census count, 2021 Census Bureau estimates place the city at 12th-largest.
“As the suburbs start to increase, that speck of the city goes farther and farther away because the land is cheaper there,” he said. “You can build homes that are more affordable to middle- or low-income households. More minorities move into those areas where you can find cheaper homes. You can get a bit better of a house and lifestyle than in the inner city.”
Mayor Mattie Parker said it’s still “imperative” to maintain the urban core and character of Fort Worth as it rapidly grows. While there is a growing, more diverse suburban population, there’s still room for all types of people in the city, she said.
“Importantly, you’re a large city in multiple places, not just your urban core,” Parker said. “If you take up (residence) in the Alliance area or Walsh area, those areas are exploding, but they’re still Fort Worth. But maybe they’re not part of your traditional urban core that’s been there since (the city’s) inception.”
Brooke Colombo is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by grants from the Amon G. Carter and Sid W. Richardson foundations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.