What this panhandle county tells us about the future of Oklahoma

American Theater in Guymon, Texas County, OK | Photo by Nathan Gunter | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The American Theater in Guymon, Texas County, OK | Photo by Nathan Gunter | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Chan Aaron is an OK Policy summer intern. He is pursuing an environmental policy degree at The University of Tulsa. He is also a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a degree in philosophy and a veteran of the United States Navy.

The average Oklahoman probably doesn’t know much about Texas County, OK (other than that it is next to Texas). Yet this small panhandle county could be a glimpse of the state’s future. A new OK Policy fact sheet lays out the rapid changes happening in Texas County in recent years, and in this post we discuss what they could mean for the state as a whole.

In the last decade, Texas County, OK has experienced a significant population surge. A large number of Hispanic families have moved into the area seeking opportunities from pork producer and primary Texas County employer, Seaboard Foods, which provides decent-paying jobs that don’t require a college education.  While the new residents have brought economic vitality and an in-demand workforce, the area also faces challenges to ensure adequate housing, education, health care and other services for the new population — challenges that are a growing concern for the whole state.

The U.S. Census American Community Survey estimates that Texas County had a total population of 21,157 in 2013. That’s a 28.9 percent increase since 1990, more than five percentage points higher than the growth rate for the state as a whole. Texas County’s population push is due to strong growth in the Hispanic population, which increased by over 1,400 people from 2010 to 2013. Over the same period, the county’s non-Hispanic population fell by 113 people.

A large majority of the county’s growth (about 80 percent) has come from new births, not migration from other countries or other parts of the U.S. These growing families are why Hispanics are especially predominant among the youngest county residents. While non-Hispanics still comprised a majority of the total population in 2013, Hispanics made up more than 50 percent of all age groups 44 and below and nearly two-thirds of residents younger than 5 years.

“While non-Hispanics are still the majority in Texas County, Hispanics make up more than 50 percent of all age groups 44 and below and nearly two-thirds of residents younger than 5 years.”

The population growth has been fueled by and also contributes to a steadily expanding economy in Texas County, even during the recent national recession. The Bureau of Labor Statistics measured Texas County’s unemployment rate at 4.9 percent in January 2010 while the state as a whole was at 7.1 percent. Texas County’s rate remained under 5 percent the next 4 years, reaching a low of 3.7 percent in January 2014. Texas County also maintained a lower poverty rate than both the state and nation from 2009 to 2013. Further, Texas County residents earned higher incomes on average than Oklahomans as a whole. The 2013 Texas County median household income was more than $4,500 above the state’s median household income.

Not only does Texas County’s Hispanic population impact the local economy as workers and consumers, but they have profoundly changed the economic landscape by owning a relatively large percentage of local businesses. The percentage of Texas County Hispanic-owned firms (7.5 percent) is more than three times the state average (2.3 percent).

The flood of people and money has caused new infrastructure deficiencies and exaggerated already existing ones. Housing supply may not be keeping up with rapid growth in the county, which could impede further economic development. Integra Realty Resource’s Citywide Housing Market Study estimates a need for 119 new housing units per year through 2018, mostly in the county seat of Guymon. Yet just 66 building permits for residential units have been issued in Guymon in the past decade.

Another sign of economic fragility in the county is a very high rate of uninsured residents. Nearly 26 percent of county residents under 65 were uninsured in 2013, the 10th highest rate among all counties in Oklahoma. The high percentage of uninsured matches what can be seen in the rising Hispanic population across Oklahoma.

Educational attainment is a significant area in which Texas County trails the state as a whole. Just 71 percent of Texas County citizens older than 25 have a high school diploma, significantly below the state’s 86.4 percent with a high school diploma (2013). Similarly, Texas County adults who have a college degree is about 5 percentage points lower than the rest of the state. The comparatively low educational attainment in Texas County is similar to what can be seen in Oklahoma’s Hispanic population as a whole. While a lack of academic achievement does not seem to be limiting the county’s current economic prosperity, it does create risks, mostly due to a lack of alternatives if current jobs in the meat-processing industry go away.

Between 2005 and 2013, Texas County school districts added 544 new students, a 14 percent increase. The increase can be attributed almost exclusively to the groundswell of Hispanics into the area. The US Census American Community Survey estimates 38.1 percent of Texas County students age 5+ speak a language other than English at home, about four times the state’s rate of 9.4 percent (2013). Some of these children may be learning English for the first time in school, and it will be important to follow the best practices for teaching English-language learners to ensure they get a strong education.

The economies of Texas County and the state as a whole have benefited from an infusion of hard-working immigrants and new families with Hispanic heritage. As these families become a larger part of our state, it will be important to invest in improving educational opportunities and health care programs to ensure high wages and a competitive workforce. Unfortunately, in the wake of a state budget that will lead to more cuts to schools and the state’s refusal of federal funds to expand health coverage, policymakers seem to be hurtling in the opposite direction. Oklahoma lawmakers and business owners would do well to keep an eye on this patch of land in the panhandle for a glimpse of both the challenges and opportunities we will face as a state.

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5 thoughts on “What this panhandle county tells us about the future of Oklahoma

  1. good job chan. nice 1st paragraph, and conclusion. just a few bones from me 1. the paragraphy about uninsured, need to be clearer about what kind of insurance, as you note later about health insurance, is that what you are talking about regarding “uninsured”? 2. paragraphy about education levels: sometimes you use ‘real’ percentage points, at other times, you use percentage difference. ithink you should keep it consistent, and would rather always see you “doing the math” rather than me, here is ex Educational attainment is a significant area in which Texas County trails the state as a whole. Just 71 percent of Texas County citizens older than 25 have a high school diploma, significantly below the state’s 86.4 percent with a high school diploma (2013). Similarly, Texas County adults who have a college degree is about 5 percentage points lower than the rest of the state. The comparatively low educational attainment in Texas County is similar to what can be seen in Oklahoma’s Hispanic population as a whole. While a lack of academic achievement does not seem to be limiting the county’s current economic prosperity, it does create risks, mostly due to a lack of alternatives if current jobs in the meat-processing industry go away.”

    other opnions i have, factory farms are unsustainable, and dangerous in my opinion. the corporations should be more regulated and taxed to ensure the stresses they are putting on natural and human environments can be protected and cared for. 2. okla’s long history of resource extractions (be it oil, or meat in this case) has been a long term disaster for state due to what? greed? bad govt stewardship? nearsightedness? perhaps a mention of past mistakes would be good in this/your analysis. loved it though. thanks for headsup, tuck

  2. Just two comments about the region. Even though the per capita income seems to remain high. The real concern are the workers at Seaboard that are foreign born and are here working to improve their lives and the lives of there families back in Mexico and other countries. So the data shows the income, but what is not and cannot be captured is the wealth value of the income that is being sent out of the county, and region and country back to their families. With regards to housing, there has been a shortage of housing since Seaboard announced they were coming to Guymon back in 1994. There have been several attempts to get housing constructed in the area, but the biggest issue is getting developers to come to the region to build housing when it is more profitable in metro areas. Due to the income levels Texas county and Guymon cannot qualify for many of the housing assistance programs. With the effort of the local Economic Development Director, some changes have been made tha make it more economically feasible for outside developers to come in and build. There is a developer from Ardmore that is going to build 20-30 affordable single family homes. Guymon is now renovating a longtime vacant multistory hotel in downtown Guymon into apartments and are building a new apartment building next to it. The next big issue for Guymon that will literally change the economic landscape again is the Clean Line transmission line that will run from Guymon to Memphis, TN. When that is approved in the near future another wave of employees for wind farm construction and the AC to DC conversion station construction will once again stretch the limits of the housing infrastructure. Guymon and the Oklahoma Panhanlde will continue its economic base for many years.

  3. Interesting article Chan, and I appreciate you look at the growth issues surrounding our area. The 4th and 5th paragraphs are misleading. The large population change from 1990 – early 2000’s was mostly immigrants and other new people coming to the area for jobs. You need to identify the growth in paragraph 5 to only represent the 2010 to 2013 time frame rather than the 1990 through 2013 time frame. Some other additional thoughts, all or most of the employees of Seaboard and other employers in the area are covered by health insurance through work. However, the employees are reluctant to use them if they are working under a false name especially if the medical needs are related to children or will impact their access to the free county clinic. As an employer, this is a huge problem and we used to have meeting with the hospital staff to try to catch/correct problems with people not using their insurance. This issue is created by our immigration policies and the legal status of those without permission to work. I agree with much of the rest of your article, especially the growth making our lack of planning in our community infrastructure to allow for growth especially rapid growth. The schools had been planned with the previous 20 year growth curve in mind. Never was this kind of growth expected and no budgeting was made for it as school districts can’t really hold money from one year the next in a “rainy” day fund.

    On a side note and to “tuck” above, I am not sure what you know about “factory farms” and sustainability in general but the consolidation is not driven by anything but an attempt to reach an economically sustainable level in today’s risk environment. Also, regulations are not to small producers (or anyone else’s) benefit except maybe to agency which gets the budgetary largess and why regulate and tax only corporations. Almost all the farms are corporate ownership with 1-5 family owners. I agree that natural and human capital need to be protected from abuse but the eye that determines what abuse means has to be careful. I am not sure what you are driving at in your 2nd part except that you don’t like our state using its resources. Why is that a long term disaster? What past mistakes are your referencing? Lastly, punctuation and capitalization are your friends, get to know them!

    Good Luck,

    Cattlebaron

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