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Brown versus gray

This is an old, familiar story, but it really can’t be said often enough:

When Gov. Rick Perry showed up in San Antonio earlier this summer to deliver brief remarks to the annual gathering of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, he sauntered inadvertently into a demographic dispute of epic proportions.

The courteous but cool reception the governor got that day was yet another manifestation of a tussle that regularly roiled the recent legislative session in Austin and one that will, in part, shape the coming presidential contest. Certainly, it will shape Texas politics for the foreseeable future.

Former state demographer Steven Murdock, now director of Rice University’s Hobby Center for the Study of Texas, says the reason Perry was received less than enthusiastically by the officially nonpartisan group was not simply a matter of liberal versus conservative, brown versus white or Republican versus Democrat. The tension in the hotel ballroom had its roots in a deeper demographic split, he says, one between the old and the young. The old happen to be predominantly Anglo, the young predominantly Hispanic.

The political divide between the two groups is stark. In a Pew Research Center survey released earlier this year, only 23 percent of white seniors said they preferred a larger government that offers more services; 61 percent preferred a smaller government that offers fewer services. Among minorities, the percentages were reversed: 62 percent preferred a larger government, 28 percent a smaller one.

Murdock, who also participated in the NALEO conference, maintains that the two forces represented that day in San Antonio actually depend on each other more than either usually acknowledges. How — or whether — they work out a rapprochement will have a powerful effect on the economic and social future of Texas and the nation.

“There’s a wonderful argument about the need for an inter-generational compact,” says Murdock’s Rice colleague, Stephen Klineberg, a sociology professor, who for three decades has directed the Houston Area Survey. “The aging baby boomers who are moving into retirement, 76 million babies born during that incredible period 1946 to 1964, have a stake in making sure that these Latino and African-American kids are well-educated to get the good jobs and are well-paid — so that we can tax the daylights out of them.”

As I have done many times before, I will quote Steve Murdock, who has been singing from this hymnal for years now:

By [20]23 or [20]24, we’re talking about three out of every four Texas workers being non-Anglo. I like to say, well, if I, as an aging Anglo, forget that the quality of services I’m going to have—fire, police, and other services—depend on how well primarily the working-age population is doing, I really do so to my own detriment. Our fates are intertwined and related. How well our non-Anglo citizens do in Texas is how well Texas will do.

I’d say that unfortunately, the aging Anglo population is doing a fine job of forgetting this. And we’ll all pay for it down the line. See Greg for more on a related story.

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