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Stephen Klineberg

The 2020 Kinder Houston Area Survey

We were a pretty optimistic bunch earlier this year, in the Before Times.

Houstonians are expressing a deeper sense of mutual trust, compassion, and solidarity than ever before, with many also calling for policies that will reduce inequalities and improve public schools, according to a recent Rice survey. Houston Area Survey.

“We’re a different population. We see the world differently than we did five to 10 years ago,” said Stephen Klineberg, founding director of the Rice’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research and an emeritus professor of sociology.

The Kinder Area Survey, which was conducted between Jan. 28 and March 12, got responses from 1,001 Harris County residents, and results were released Monday during the Kinder Institute’s annual luncheon which was held virtually for the first time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Klineberg, who has conducted the survey for the past 39 years, said this year’s survey has been one of the most remarkable — coming just days before the novel coronavirus jolted the Houston community and the world, and showing that Houston residents were hopeful for their city, but ready for a change.


More Houstonians than ever are also calling for government programs to address inequality, according to the survey. Sixty-one percent said government should take action to reduce income differences, 72 percent favored federal health insurance for all Americans, and 79 percent said the government should ensure residents who want to work can find employment. The numbers have increased from a decade ago, when they stood at 45 percent on income differences, 60 percent on healthcare for all, and 64 percent on employment.

Klineberg said the responses indicated the growing inequalities when it comes to health care and economic opportunities, which disproportionately affect the city’s black and Hispanic communities.

Houstonians are also more trusting of those around them, less fearful of crime and have shifted their views on what constitutes a crime. Seventy percent rejected the suggestion that possession of small amounts of marijuana should be treated as a crime — up from 44 percent in 2003 and 34 percent in 1995.

You can see the 2020 Kinder Houston Area Survey data here. I have to wonder what the data would have looked like if the survey had been conducted a month or so later, but that’s not important now. This survey is a treasure, and even if the timing was a bit weird this year it’s still a wealth of knowledge about our region. We’re so lucky this has been a thing for so long. Check it out.

Harris County’s growth slows

We’re still growing, we just didn’t grow as fast last year as we had in previous years.

After eight straight years of boom – adding more new residents than any county in the nation – Harris County in 2016 felt some of the oil bust’s sting.

The county gained a total of about 56,600 people last year, a decline of 37 percent from the previous year, placing it behind Arizona’s Maricopa County, which added nearly 81,400 new residents.

The decline was largely attributable to the fact that for the first time in years more people – about 16,000 – left Harris County than moved here from elsewhere in the country, according to Census data released Thursday.

Despite the losses, Harris County held on to its No. 2 position in the nation in overall growth thanks to the number of people moving here from abroad and the number of births.

The greater Houston region, which includes The Woodlands and Sugar Land, also saw the total number of new residents fall by about 21 percent to just over 125,000 in 2016, the lowest in at least the last four years.


State demographer Lloyd Potter said Houston’s population growth is also powered by its high birth rates, especially among its young, rapidly expanding Hispanic population.

“The net out domestic migration was pretty substantial,” Potter said. “That’s kind of impressive, to still have the second-highest numeric growth. You would have expected it to slip a little more than that.”

Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor and founding director of its Kinder Institute for Urban Research, pointed to the fate of other cities that have seen similar dramatic job declines such as Detroit, where Wayne County last year lost about 7,700 residents, the most in the nation after Chicago’s Cook County. Michigan’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, has in the past called for more visas for high-skilled immigrants for the Detroit area, citing the population losses and need for an economic jump-start.

“This is a powerful reminder of how much Houston benefits from immigration,” Klineberg said.

We sure do, in many ways. The flip side of that is that we have a lot to lose if immigration is curtailed the way Dear Leader Trump and his minions want to. Even with them being 0 for 2 on travel bans, we’re already seeing the effect of that. We’ll just have to see what the numbers look like next year.

You can’t talk about population growth without talking about redistricting. Texas is on track to get more Congressional seats in the 2020 reapportionment, probably two or three. It seems likely that the greater area, if not Harris County itself, will get a bigger piece of the Congressional pie. Of more interest is whether Harris County will remain at 24 members in the Legislature, or if it will go back to having 25 members. Too early to say, and things can certainly change, but it could happen. Keep that in mind as we go forward. This Chron story and the Trib, both of which have charts, have more.

The 2013 Houston Area Survey

The 2013 Houston Area Survey shows that tolerance is prevalent in our region.

The results, according to institute co-director Stephen Klineberg, may reflect the region’s growing ethnic diversity, younger residents’ acceptance of change and the emergence of live-and-let-live “tolerant traditionalists.” Part of a larger survey of attitudes in the 10-county Houston metropolitan region, the 32nd annual poll queried 991 county residents in February and March. The margin of error is plus- or minus three points per 1,000 respondents.

“The theme is one of new realities across the board.” Klineberg said. “There’s a kind of recognition that we’re in a different world, that the 21st century is a different place.”

Some of the poll’s most significant findings centered on immigration. In results influenced by younger participants, 83 percent of respondents favored offering illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, providing they speak English and have no criminal record. That is up 19 points from just four years ago.

On other immigration-related questions, 68 percent supported admitting as many or more immigrants in the coming decade as were admitted in the last; 61 percent said immigration strengthens American culture; 51 percent said relations among Houston’s ethnic groups are good or excellent.

Respondents endorsed mandatory background checks for all firearms by an overwhelming 89 percent. They told pollsters they favored equal marriage rights for same-sex couples by 46 percent, up nine points from 2001.

You can see more on the 2013 survey here and here, and more on the Kinder Institute, including archives of previous surveys, here. The Chron story begins by characterizing Harris County as “consistently conservative”, which may come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the 2008 and 2012 election results, but never mind that. The trend is what matters, and it’s pointing in the right direction. That’s good news for all of us.

Houston area transit preferences in 2012

The 2012 Houston Area Survey is in the can, and though the data has not been published to their website yet, there have been a few preview tidbits tossed out to whet everyone’s appetite. One of them has to do with attitudes about transit and neighborhoods.

But perhaps the most dramatic change, [Rice professor Stephen] Klineberg said, was the desire of Harris County residents for a less car-centered, more urban lifestyle.

Just more than half of people – 51 percent – said they would choose a smaller home within walking distance of workplaces and shops, rather than a single-family home with a big yard, which required driving almost everywhere they wanted to go.

That was up from 39 percent in 2010, the last time the question was asked.

Klineberg attributed the increase to exasperation with traffic, new and refurbished residential buildings downtown, in Midtown and east of downtown and the action in and around Discovery Green. But it also could reflect revamped suburban developments in Sugar Land, The Woodlands and elsewhere that combine homes, shops and entertainment, he said.

People in Harris County and in the surrounding counties offered support for mass transit, including a majority who said they would prefer the current diversion of transit taxes for street, drainage and landscaping projects be spent instead on transit.

“That is completely consistent with what we are seeing,” said Gilbert Garcia, chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority board. “Everyone wants more service. We know people want to see their tax dollars spent on mobility and transit.”

That would be a big deal, considering that Metro will almost certainly have a referendum on the ballot this year to continue the work from the 2003 referendum, and a question about the diversion of sales tax revenue to the cities in Metro’s service area for road work may well be part of it. There’s no guarantee that what was expressed in this survey will translate to victory at the ballot box, but I for one would rather start out ahead than start out behind.

You can see previous HAS questions and responses for city versus suburban living, traffic and congestion, and for planning and land use, which has the question about smaller homes nearer work versus larger homes. I’m either not seeing the question about diverting sales taxes to transit or they’re interpolating from a question with different wording. In any event, as I said the 2012 data is not up yet. Keep that in mind as you read one of the more amazing accomplishment in idiotic quotes I’ve seen in years:

Paul Bettencourt, former Harris County tax assessor-collector and a frequent critic of government spending, said he suspects the survey reflects support for solutions like natural-gas buses and even high-speed rail, rather than more light rail.

“I hear a lot of discussion about, ‘Hey, why don’t we use natural gas buses. Let them go everywhere, as opposed to just tracks on streets.’ ”

How stupid is this? Let me count the ways.

1. Bettencourt is neither an elected official nor an expert on transit. He’s Just Some Guy who happens to dislike Metro and is always willing to provide an “I’m agin’ it” quote whenever a Chron reporter needs one. I sometimes think he pre-emptively calls them himself to see if they’ve got something in the works that might need a few droppings of his wisdom.

2. Bettencourt hasn’t seen any of the survey data, but it doesn’t matter because he knows what the people really think, and what they really think is exactly what he thinks. I presume he also has the phone number for Tom Friedman’s mystical cab driver along with that of every Chron reporter in his contacts.

3. Not to get all technical or anything, but high speed rail has pretty much nothing to do with commuting, unless you’re one of those people who lives in one city and works in another. It certainly has nothing to do with getting around a city.

Other than that, what he had to say was insightful and added value to the story. I can hardly wait for his next quote opportunity.

Stephen Klineberg, superstar

I want to see this.

Dr. Stephen Klineberg

David Thompson and his colleagues at ttweak are best-known for their work on the quirky “Houston – It’s Worth It” campaign, paying homage to the yawning potholes, soul-sapping humidity and all the other things that help to define the sprawling city.

But they may have found the quintessential symbol of Houston in the star of their new film, “Interesting Times: Tracking Houston’s Transformations Through 30 Years of Surveys.”

Since 1982, Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg has followed the city’s economic fortunes, changing demographics and enduring belief that Houston is a better place to live than almost anywhere else.

His basic pitch after decades of study: “We are the most ethnically diverse city in the nation, a city reinventing itself for the 21st Century.”

He argues that Houston’s future depends upon raising the education levels of its growing Latino population, as well as improving parks and other urban amenities to attract knowledge workers and innovators who could live anywhere.

The film premiered earlier this week at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It’s a 30-minute sweep of skyline, streetscapes, archival footage and bits of data from the surveys.

Mostly, it shows the 71-year-old Klineberg, alone on stage in an empty auditorium at Rice, barely containing his enthusiasm as he talks about his life’s work.

I can’t find anything on this on the MFAH films page, but this will be shown at Discovery Green on April 27 after the 2012 Houston Area Survey is released. In light of recent news, I hope they’ve asked questions about attitudes towards marriage equality. No matter the case, the HAS is another great thing about Houston, and Klineberg deserves the accolades.

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.

More on Houston’s sustainability efforts

This Trib story about Houston Sustainability Director Laura Spanjian and her efforts to make our fair city a greener place, which also appeared in the Sunday New York Times, can be considered a companion piece to the earlier CultureMap story about her. Since it was in the Times, it’s geared towards a national audience:

The nation’s fourth-largest city, the sprawling capital of the oil industry, has recently embarked on a variety of green initiatives in an effort to keep up with the times and, it hopes, save money.

The local-food craze is the most visible of these efforts, with the opening of the weekly farmers market in October and the planting of nearby Michelle Obama-style vegetable gardens tended by city hall staff members. But Houston is also transforming itself into an electric-car hub, a national leader in wind-power investment and an advocate for energy efficiency.

“It’s a city rethinking what it needs to be successful,” says Stephen Klineberg, co-director of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University.

In recent decades, Klineberg says, as Houston’s economy has diversified beyond oil, the city has realized that it needs to pay attention to quality-of-life issues if it wants to attract talented people.

“Our problem,” he says, “is that people who don’t live in Houston say, ‘Yuck, why would you want to live in Houston?’”

I’m a fan of the goals here, but I don’t know how much effect Spanjian’s efforts can have on the problem Klineberg identifies. Can’t hurt, but it’s my opinion that the best antidote Houston has to this is good word of mouth from those of us who do live here, and especially those of us who move here.

Being on the cutting edge of green technology will help, too.

Perhaps Houston’s most publicized initiative involves electric cars. Starting early next year, the city — which already has plenty of hybrids among its fleet — will become among the first recipients of Nissan’s all-electric Leaf. The city government is expecting to buy 30 of the cars next year with financial help from the federal government. Earlier this month, the electric company NRG Energy rolled out an initiative to put in 50 public charging stations around the city by mid-2011.

Of course, electric cars will do nothing to ease Houston’s infamous traffic and sprawl.

“If you’re going to be a car city, you might as well acknowledge that and help people get into cars that don’t pollute as much,” Parker says.

The city is also considering California-style incentives that would allow electric cars into the high-occupancy-vehicle lanes or reduce their tolls. The city also wants more light-rail lines.

The article doesn’t go into any detail about that last sentence, which at this point is just as well. As far as the electric cars goes, I’m hopeful. I’m also curious if anyone will be tracking electric car ownership in Houston going forward, to see if there are more of them per capita than in cities that don’t have any charging amenities. Seems like something you’d want to do. Anyway, it’s a good story, so check it out.

A gloomy Survey

The 2010 Houston Area Survey is out, and not surprisingly the results are pretty gloomy.

Harris County residents this year offered the bleakest assessment of their personal finances, past and future, in the 29-year history of the Houston Area Survey.

Just 20 percent said their financial circumstances had improved in the past few years, half the level of two years ago. Meanwhile, 48 percent said they expected their finances to get better in the next few years, a decline of 10 percentage points from 2008.

Both numbers were the lowest recorded since the surveys began in 1982.


Asked to name the biggest problem facing people in the Houston area today, 38 percent mentioned the economy, 25 percent said traffic congestion and 18 percent replied crime — the same concerns in roughly the same proportion expressed by respondents the year before.

In 2008, however, before the effects of the recession were evident, just 15 percent said the economy was the biggest problem.

Economic worries surfaced in other, more subtle ways as well: More respondents said people who work hard and live by the rules aren’t getting a fair break; a greater percentage agreed that few good jobs exist for people without a college education; and fewer than half agreed that enough good jobs were available for welfare recipients who wanted to work.

You can see the highlights of the Survey here, and the whole enchilada here. I haven’t had a chance to really peruse it yet, so I don’t have anything deep to say. The Survey is always a fascinating read, and a continually updated moving picture of where we are as a metropolis. It’s a heck of a resource to have.

We’re for more land use regulations, whatever that means

As long as Zogby was polling the Mayor’s race, they may as well ask about some other stuff, too. Like whether or not you like the Ashby highrise.

Out of 601 people surveyed between Oct. 12 and 15, 71 percent said they strongly or somewhat agree that “Houston should enact tougher land use restrictions.”

The results come from a range of questions about voter satisfaction with the direction the city is headed, their views on the tenure of outgoing Mayor Bill White and which issues they find most important as they consider his replacement.

Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg, who has gauged voter support for zoning and stronger development protections for decades, said much of the support for such planning improvements likely falls at the feet of the Ashby high-rise development.


“It reflects a broad recognition that people want to be prepared for the additional 1 million people who are going to be in Harris County in 20 years,” Klineberg said.

Mmm. I’ll grant that you’d likely have gotten a different answer to this question 20 years ago, but I think Klineberg is giving folks too much credit. I suspect this is one of those issues that polls well as a generic “do you support?” question, but any actual plan to implement it would be much less popular. Really, there’s nothing unusual about that – as long as it’s theoretical, everyone can assume they’re supporting their own personal idea of how it should be done. Nothing specific can match up with that. When someone proposes an actual ordinance, and there’s a vocal constituency loudly opposing it, then we’ll see how popular this is. Until then, color me skeptical.

Gay rights support in Houston

  • Good news.

    [A]ccording to the latest Houston Area Survey, fewer than half of Harris County residents believe homosexuality is morally wrong, 61 percent believe it’s an innate characteristic rather than a lifestyle choice, and 43 percent believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual ones — up from 32 percent just two years ago.

    Every measure of support for gay rights has increased significantly in recent years, said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey since 1982.

    He attributed the change partly to changing individual attitudes, but mostly to the emergence of a new generation that grew up amid positive images of gay men and lesbians who no longer felt the need to conceal their sexual orientation.

    Younger respondents to the survey, Klineberg said, were more likely to believe gay marriages should have the same legal status as heterosexual unions, to support allowing gays and lesbians to be school teachers, and to say they had a close personal friend who was gay or lesbian.

    Anglo voters over 60 were most likely to oppose increased rights for gays, Klineberg said.

    That’s basically in line with polling data all around the country. Slowly but inexorably, the bulk of the people who think homosexuality is wrong are dying off, and they’re being replaced by a generation that knows better. Great for the country, not so good for the Republican Party. I figure the GOP will eventually adapt. If not, their ultimate demise will have been well earned.

    Note, by the way, that Kilneberg’s survey covers all of Harris County. The City of Houston is surely more liberal than the county as a whole.

    Ray Hill, a Houston gay activist, said he vividly remembers the disappointment felt in his community on the night of Jan. 19, 1985, when Houston voters overturned the anti-discrimination ordinance by a margin of greater than 4-1.

    Hill said gays and lesbians drove the change in attitudes by coming out of hiding, allowing heterosexuals to see how they could contribute to families and communities.

    “It’s not about what they think about us, it’s about what we think about us,” Hill said. “There is almost no reason in the world for anyone to be closeted any more.”

    I had the opportunity a few months back at a panel discussion to ask Ray Hill when there would be an effort launched to try to undo City Charter Amendment 2 from 2001, which denies health care and other employment benefits to same-sex domestic partners of city employees and which passed by a narrow 51.5 to 48.5 margin (PDF) at the time. He said the votes were there now to do it, and I have to agree. We’re likely still a decade or so away from attitudes being sufficiently different in Texas as a whole, but we’ll get there. Time is on our side.