Not many people want to live in West Texas any more.
The 2010 Census confirmed what anyone passing through the scrublands of West Texas already knew: People are leaving, and no one is taking their place, even with oil at more than $100 a barrel. The people who remain often drive an hour or more to visit a doctor, buy a pair of jeans or see a movie.
So you might wonder why anyone is still there, in this place where natural beauty is defined by dry creek beds and scraggly mesquite, where public transit is a school bus and Starbucks is a punch line.
“The greatest sunsets. The stars are just right there. You hear the coyotes howling,” says Billy Burt Hopper, sheriff of Loving County, home to 82 people and the least-populated county in the United States.
“It’s the last frontier.”
Texas recorded the largest population growth in the nation over the past decade, adding 4.5 million people for a total of 25.1 million. But 79 of its 254 counties lost people, all but a handful of them west of Interstate 35. Even more would have lost population if not for the decade’s phenomenal Latino growth; the number of Anglos declined in 162 Texas counties, including much of West Texas and the Panhandle.
The shift to the state’s cities and suburbs has been happening since at least the 1960s, as people died or moved away from the vast emptiness of the west and the endless stretches of the Panhandle.
I’m a city boy, so that kind of lifestyle has no appeal to me, but to each their own. I just wonder what the minimum population level for sustainability is. Will we look back in 20 or 30 years and see that some of these towns no longer exist because it became practically impossible to live there? The school districts out there are heavily threatened by the budget cuts. What happens if some of them fall apart as a result?