The headlines have been heartening lately for Latinos in Austin and across the country, at least when it comes to narrowing the income and education gaps that have dogged the nation’s largest minority group for years.
Recently, we learned that Latinos in the Austin-Round Rock metro area saw a hefty 17 percent increase in median household income from 2015 to 2016 — rising from $48,160 to $56,306, according to new census data.
Encouraging, yes, but it’s not time to get carried away just yet. It’s true that household incomes rose for Austin-area Latinos, but they still trail whites by a large margin.
Still, closing the income gap offers hope for anyone who believes in the old cliché that a rising tide lifts all boats. And for some time now in Austin, Latinos and African Americans have lagged behind whites in terms of quality of life barometers like income and educational attainment.
Attempts to close gaps led the city to launch Hispanic Quality of Life and African American Quality of Life initiatives, which I covered many years ago. The reviews were mixed. Some minority residents said they didn’t accomplish nearly enough. Some Austinites said the city should help all residents, not just certain minority groups. Regardless where you stood, many of the issues the initiatives sought to address back then are still around.
But back to the good news. Another reason to be encouraged is that there’s plenty of demographic evidence around to believe that if the Austin region will continue to prosper, the future will depend to a large part on the young and fast-growing Hispanic population.
In Travis County alone, 47 percent of the child population is Hispanic, researchers with the Community Advancement Network (CAN) found.
“When I speak to groups, I tell them, ‘That’s our future right there. That’s what the community is going to look like in 20 or 30 years,’” Raul Alvarez, who heads (CAN), told me.
Latinos already make up about 32 percent of the roughly 2 million overall population in the Austin-Round Rock metro area, according to 2016 census data. That’s no secret. What many people don’t know, however, is that demographic experts expect that the Latino population will become the largest portion of the Central Texas workforce sometime in about the next 15 years.
Such projections, however, increasingly lead to worries that Latinos will be left behind because as skill requirements for some careers rise, comparative lack of education could leave a growing share of the local Latino workforce stuck in low-wage jobs.
But there’s good news on that front, too. According to experts, one of the logical explanations behind the Latino income increase is that Latinos are reaching higher education levels.
The percentage of Texas Latinos ages 25 and older with at least a bachelor’s degree increased between 2015 and 2016, the American-Statesman reported recently.
A new report by the Pew Research Center also found that among Hispanics nationwide, the high school dropout rate is at a new low – 10 percent, continuing a decline spanning several decades. Moreover, as the Hispanic dropout rate plummeted, the share of Hispanic high school graduates who enter college rose, Pew reported.
While encouraging, the new income and education benchmarks aren’t all rosy, and pronounced disparities between minorities and whites persist.
Those figures showing the U.S. Hispanic high school dropout rate is at a new low of 10 percent? They don’t tell the full story: the Hispanic dropout rate was higher than for any other racial and ethnic group.
And though Austin Hispanics may have closed the gaps when it comes to income, they still lag far behind whites, whose median household income in 2016 was close to $74,000 – 31 percent higher than that of Latinos ($56,306) and 48 percent higher than that of African Americans (49,871).
And when income is measured another way – per capita –Hispanics in Central Texas make less than half of what Anglos on average make per year, according to the Austin Community Foundation.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that though Hispanics comprise only about a third of the overall Travis County population, they make up 55 percent of all Travis residents living in poverty, according to CAN, which keeps an annual Dashboard on its website that measures socioeconomic indicators.
It’s even worse for children. CAN researchers found that Hispanic children, although comprising 47 percent of the child population, make up 74 percent of all Travis County children living in poverty.
For Alvarez, that figure may be more troubling than anything else.
“That’s important because it says Hispanics are overrepresented in terms of family and poverty, and they’re going to face challenges that other populations are not going to face,” Alvarez told me.
In other words, there’s good news for area Latinos, but there’s much work to be done.
Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear soon after taking office in January 2015 that eliminating so-called sanctuary cities was one of his priorities for the 85th Texas Legislature.
Today, Abbott is one step closer to achieving that goal as Senate Bill 4, which punishes local jurisdictions that decline to assist with federal immigration enforcement, is en route to his desk.
After the Senate accepted on Wednesday the House’s controversial bill, Abbot took to Twitter to post: “The Texas sanctuary city ban wins final legislative approval. I’m getting my signing pen warmed up. #txlege#tcot”
However, the measure is wrong for Texas — even if our leaders refuse to acknowledge it.
The negative effects associated with this bill could be troubling. For instance, companies in the tech and medical sectors might think twice before relocating to Texas if they perceive an anti-immigrant measure will affect their recruiting efforts. And in some areas of the state, policing could become more about harassing people who look a certain way than about focusing on the worst of criminals in a community. Those ramifications just scratch the surface.
As the American-Statesman editorial board has written on several occasions, such a measure will hurt Texas more than keep it safe, as Abbott and proponents of the bill proclaim.
But the board was not the only voice against Senate Bill 4, as Texas law enforcement leaders went before state lawmakers to testify that the measure will be a burden for taxpayers and officers. Many more individuals testified about the potential this law presents for law enforcement officers to intimidate immigrants.
For now, the voices of so many have gone unheard.
We reflect some of those thoughts on the issue with these editorials:
Few pieces of legislation in recent years have generated as much intense national debate in recent memory as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known to many Americans as Obamacare.
An overhaul of the U.S. health care system, it was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010. Republicans have long vowed to repeal and replace the law, and on March 6 GOP lawmakers unveiled a House bill called the American Health Care Act, which would change how health care is financed for people who do not have insurance coverage through their work and eliminate the mandate requiring most Americans to have health insurance.
We asked Viewpoints readers to share their ACA experience with us. The following are some of their letters and photos:
In 2013, I was in good health but my doctor had me on four meds for cholesterol and high blood pressure. No big deal — in fact, three of these were on the $4 list at Wal-Mart Pharmacy. So, then I decided to buy an individual health insurance policy. Aetna, Blue Cross and other insurers declined to cover me for any price because of the number of meds I took to stay healthy. When the Affordable Care Act became effective in 2014, I had a choice of insurers through the health insurance exchange. So even though I didn’t qualify for subsidy, the ACA made it possible for me to finally buy health insurance because insurers are no longer permitted to cherry pick customers by excluding pre-existing conditions. — Howard Porter, Austin
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31 in 2015. With no family history, it was a terrible surprise nine months before my wedding. But I was lucky that the cancer had not spread, although my oncologist still recommended surgery, chemo and radiation. Again, I was lucky — I had health insurance, which picked up the $280,000 tab for my treatments. I didn’t need Obamacare for myself, but I cannot imagine what it would have been like to receive this diagnosis without insurance. It would have destroyed my dreams for the future. I know that before the ACA, this happened to Americans constantly. Repealing Obamacare will directly impact me — specifically, repealing the pre-existing conditions clause. Even though I no longer have cancer, I will forever be considered either uninsurable or gouged for health insurance without this provision. It isn’t my fault I got cancer, but if Obamacare is repealed, I will keep paying for it. — Tiffany Gilman, Austin
Never mind the lines: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” or “If you like your policy, you can keep your policy.” At this time of the year, the biggest issue with the ACA really hits home. This is tax time; I am again preparing to include my 1095-C form with my return — you know, that nagging little mandatory document that must be included to prove to the IRS that you had ACA-approved coverage for the year or you get to pay a big, fat penalty. I really get tired of seeing all the numbers that are insured under the ACA. Of course there are big numbers of insured Americans; they have no choice. Instead of the previous lies, the statement should have been: “You will purchase a policy that is approved by the ACA with whatever doctors they provide, or face a stiff penalty.” — Jeff Popnoe, Round Rock
For about a year, due to pre-existing conditions, my husband, Ken, received his health insurance through the Texas High Risk Pool. When the Affordable Care Act debuted, he was glad to be able to choose a policy. Subsequently, due to a fall at home that resulted in a broken hip, he had surgery and was working on his rehabilitation in the hospital when we received devastating news: Although he had no outward symptoms, Ken had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. As we began to plan for his care, one of his doctors said, “I don’t know what you think of Obamacare, but be thankful that because of it. You are not looking at a cap on care.” Shockingly, Ken passed away only 12 days after the diagnosis. In the midst of such grief, I was very thankful for the coverage he had. There was no “Mickey Mouse” with the insurance company — as often seemed to happen before the ACA. I knew exactly what my financial responsibility was and there were no surprises. In a time of such sadness, with my brain feeling as if I was in a fog, Obamacare is something I will always be grateful for. — Robin Durr, Austin
To help pay for ACA, the cost for Medicare B went up. In 2013, I paid $98 per month for Medicare B. In 2014, it went up to $140 per month. In 2015, it went up to $280 per month, so I dropped Medicare B. — Clyde Claggett, Georgetown
My husband, Andy, and I own a small business together. I was able to make the decision to join him and leave behind the 9-to-5 world the year the ACA was rolled out. Being able to purchase reasonably priced health insurance that would allow us to have a baby was the boost we needed to make that move confidently. As the gig economy and self-employment gains a greater share of the overall economy, it’s vital to have a health insurance marketplace that is inclusive to a broad spectrum of people — especially those who have to be able to provide for themselves and their families. I suspect that the health insurance marketplace and the expansion of the gig and sharing economy and reduced unemployment are all interconnected. — Faith Sams, Austin
In 2014, my husband, Jeff, and I had insurance with Blue Cross Blue Shield with a monthly premium of $941.43. We didn’t qualify for an ACA subsidy. That policy had a $6,000 deductible per person. In November of that year, I had to have carpal tunnel surgery on both hands. In December, my husband had to have knee surgery. In summary, in 2014, we paid $23,297.16 in out-of-pocket expenses — monthly premiums plus deductibles — before Blue Cross Blue Shield ever paid a penny on our behalf. Not to mention, since the knee surgery was performed at the end of December and his physical therapy didn’t start until January, our deductible started over and we immediately started having out-of- pocket expenses again. Lastly, our monthly premium of $941.43 has now gone up to $1,457.15 starting this January. — Pam Hammonds, Burnet
My story is simple: I’m 61-years-old with two serious pre-existing conditions. I’m self-employed. If anyone would insure me, it would not be “affordable.” I’ve relied on the ACA from its beginning — and it has literally been a life-saver. I also happen to know several Republicans within my age bracket who have pre-existing conditions and also avail themselves to the program. Once they looked beyond the popular misconceptions, myths and blatant lies about the ACA, they figured out that it works pretty well for those of us who are not yet eligible for Medicare. Yes, costs have gone up while the program has worked out its early flaws, but I’ve yet to see or hear about any real alternatives that won’t cut services and raise costs even more. My biggest fear is that a bunch of grand-standing congressmen who have their own insurance are going to take mine away, leaving me — and millions of others — at risk until I reach 65. — Jeff Brown, Austin
Though my brother Alan Arms worked as a contractor for many years, none of his employers offered health insurance. In November 2013, he was coughing up blood and went to an internist who ordered him immediately to a hospital. There, he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and faced a bill over $50,000. In January 2014, the ACA went into effect — and despite his pre-existing condition, Alan was able to buy health insurance for around $550 a month. When he died in May 2014, the sole reason he left a small estate — and not a smoking crater of medical bills — was the ACA covered his pre-existing condition and paid most of his bills. Though initially he had problems finding a plan with a network that covered his doctors, eventually he found one. Had he died indigent, the hospitals and doctors would have been forced to eat the payments for his treatment. Because of the ACA, they were paid. — David Arms, Austin
The ACA was life-changing for me. I am a 44-year-old published novelist and teacher. Before Obamacare, the only option I had for health insurance was through the Author’s Guild. An HMO plan was $1,200 a month; a PPO was $1,600 a month. I have had a pre-existing condition since I was 21” a blood-clotting disorder that rarely effects my life. I was elated when I could get a decent plan for less than $500 a month. I was able to start an Austin organization called Girls With Pens because I didn’t have to worry about getting health insurance through my job. Now all that could all be taken away. Do you want me teaching your children how to love writing, or do you want me serving coffee at Starbucks for the insurance? The ACA isn’t perfect, but each and every one of us deserves affordable health care, no matter our fitness, class or working status. — Carolyn Cohagan, Austin
In 2010, my wife lost her job and we lost our health insurance. I worked for a small hardware store, where the health insurance they offered would have cost me $450 a month with a $5,000 deductible. I was making $10 an hour, so that was not an option. Then, we were able to get insurance through the ACA. For about $100 a month, we were both covered with excellent medical benefits, which included prescription benefits, preventative care and doctor visits with a $10 co-pay. Later I found out I had high cholesterol and went on medication for that. Both of these conditions are under control now. Without health care, I may not have even known I was at risk for either a stroke or heart attack. Even when the cost of our insurance went up to about $120 a month, it was still very affordable. If the ACA is repealed, my health will be in danger. — Rick Koepcke, Austin
Obamacare isn’t affordable. The plan’s premiums are going up 25 to 116 percent nationwide this year. Health insurance companies are dropping the exchanges, which forces customers in 70 percent of the U.S. counties to buy insurance from one or two companies. Republicans promised to repeal and replace Obamacare and voted over 60 times to repeal part of the law. Congress began the process in January by passing the fiscal year 2017 “shell” budget resolution — S.Con.Res.3 — which instructed the committees about how to write the repeal law. The language has existed in a bill passed in 2015. They’ve not met their self-imposed deadline — and repeal timeline is slipping. Millions will be negatively impacted by these exchanges. We’re so close to making this last chance a reality. Contact your congressional members. Tell them we want a full repeal of ACA and to replace it with a new, workable health plan. No more excuses. — Wanda Whitney, Georgetown
I am concerned about efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. For many millions of Americans, this act is very far from being a disaster, as some have glibly claimed. In fact, for some of us, it has been a life-saver. Without Obamacare, I could never have afforded to pay for a costly heart-valve replacement that may have saved my life. What will those with pre-existing conditions do without the guarantees of health care eligibility promised in the Affordable Care Act? Caring for the least among us is part of who we are as Americans. If we smash affordable health care, we shatter the fragile bonds that preserve our sense of unity. — Charles Rand, Austin
As a 62-year-old breast cancer survivor who’s losing employer-based health insurance this year, I’m terrified that without Obamacare I may be forced to choose between bankruptcy and life-saving treatment. We’ve needed the Affordable Care Act before. Our 23-year-old daughter died of a rare illness 16 months ago. The ACA allowed her to stay on my husband’s employer-based insurance and not worry about lifetime expenditure caps. Were it not for the ACA, we would have been bankrupt in addition to losing our daughter Hallie. I can’t sleep at night wondering if I’ll have ACA insurance to treat my breast cancer. Or will we again face the prospect of bankruptcy? — Abby Brody, Georgetown
First, do no harm. We learn this in medical school, carrying it with us throughout our careers. In the U.S., access to affordable health insurance is a necessity for obtaining the best possible care. Shouldn’t our elected representatives share in this goal? Unfortunately, our new administration is pressing forward with repealing the law that puts insurance in reach for most. A survey in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 85 percent of family practice doctors are against repeal of the ACA. The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, Dr. John Meigs Jr., says “too much is at stake to make significant changes to ACA.” Every day, primary care physicians see the struggles our patience face because of lack of insurance. Why isn’t our government listening to us? I hope they will join us in doing no harm — and keep the ACA. — Christine Mann, Leander
I had really good health insurance through my employers. When I went to work for myself, I had to buy insurance on my own. Though it was expensive and not very good, I knew that if I let it lapse it would be even harder to get back into the system later — and that I would have the issue of a pre-existing condition. I found the cheapest policy I could find and hoped that I wouldn’t get sick. The ACA changed everything. For the last two years, I’ve had good, affordable coverage thanks to the government subsidy. My prescriptions are just $5 — and ACA covered a large percentage of my carpal tunnel surgeries. Without that subsidy, I could not have afforded a good enough policy to cover my health care needs. Without the marketplace, I would not have had so many choices for a plan that works well for me. — Rona Distenfeld, Austin
I had my pancreas removed 16 years ago due to a rare form of pancreatic cancer. I work at home under contract and have no option for work-related coverage. When my work coverage was discontinued, I tried to get insurance to cover my needs for medication, an insulin pump and other supplies — but was told “no way” by numerous insurance companies. Once the ACA was introduced, I was finally able to get coverage that was somewhat expensive but went a long way toward keeping me alive. Many of us need it. — Rob Sanford, Fredericksburg
The debate over the merits of the Affordable Care Act highlights the highly partisan environment of our times. “Repeal and replace” has been the mantra of many Republicans elected to national office — President Trump included. However, the evidence is clear that our country’s rate of uninsured is at a historic low of nearly 9 percent. As someone who purchased insurance through the health insurance marketplace, of course I would like a more affordable monthly premium. I am hopeful that a Republican-controlled Congress can help deliver this. I am also hopeful that other pieces of Obamacare that aim to improve our nation’s health care will continue to be embraced, such as efforts to expand primary care medicine and efforts to improve quality of care. As an entering medical student, these pieces have inspired me to advocate for improving and embracing — rather than repealing and replacing — Obamacare. — Mark Smith, Austin
My wife, Linda, is a beneficiary of Obamacare. Prior to its enactment, she was covered by the Texas High Risk Pool. Due to her pre-existing type 2 diabetes, she could not get coverage from standard insurance carriers. My wife was 62 when the law was enacted — too young for Medicare. Her premiums went down with Obamacare — not up — with no subsidies. The good news is her premiums will go down again next year when she gets on Medicare. The bottom line is that Obamacare is flawed because it didn’t go far enough. Everyone should be on Medicare — and we should find a way to pay for it. Though Americans pay more for health care than any other developed country, our quality of care is not any greater. Americans should ask our congressmen and senators why. — Randy and Linda Johnson, Georgetown
In December 2013, I was newly pregnant and working long hours as a self-employed consultant at a global law firm. Our COBRA policy was set to expire. My husband, John, was the third employee in a dot-com that offered no benefits. As pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition, agencies were well within their rights to deny us coverage regardless of our willingness or ability to pay premiums. Through the ACA exchange, we enrolled in a policy and suffered no gap in coverage. That summer, our daughter Elodie was born with a previously undetected, life-threatening birth defect called duodenal atresia. Without this coverage, we would have lost everything to save her life. The bills from her surgery and monthlong neonatal intensive care unit stay totaled upwards of $500,000. We were so fortunate to pay a small fraction, thanks to the ACA. I urge your readers to consider the many hard-working families like ours that rely on the ACA’s protections. — Lisa Federico, Austin
My son was prenatally diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that would leave him with one functioning ventricle and require a series of surgeries over his lifetime — two of them in the first six months of life. Today, my son is a sweet and mischievous 18-month-old toddler, thanks to an incredible medical team. But we have a long road ahead of us, and access to a good health care policy is a top priority in my world. The ACA means my son will have medical coverage for the rest of his life and will not be punished because he has a pre-existing condition. It means he won’t face a cap on his coverage. The idea that lawmakers could repeal Obamacare without a ready replacement is terrifying to families like mine. I guess when you have free health care for life — like our congressional representatives do — the rest of us don’t matter. — Michelle Beebe Nabours, Manchaca
Today is my daughter’s eighth birthday. She was born not long after Obama’s first inauguration. Before I got pregnant, I’d left a teaching job in favor of working with an educational nonprofit, though it offered no health coverage. Wishing to have a child, I stayed on COBRA and paid a $600 monthly premium. Two miscarriages later, a pregnancy stuck. My insurance coverage did not. COBRA terminates after 18 months. Because my pregnancy was deemed a pre-existing condition, I had no other viable option. My daughter’s birth was a 24-hour ordeal that was made harder because I was uninsured. Though my husband and I gained a beautiful child, we watched a down payment for a first home disappear. Our daughter’s middle name is Hope. Our hope for uninsured expectant parents was realized, albeit imperfectly, with the ACA. By repealing it, Republican lawmakers dash dreams and health for countless families, leaving them financially at risk. — Laurie Filipelli, Austin
My family had been waiting for March 15 for five years. It was the day I donated my kidney to my mother — so that she can live her life free of a machine. I remember sitting in the clinic and my donor advocate asking me what my plan is if the ACA is repealed, explaining that a kidney donation will count as a “pre-existing condition.” Without the ACA, health insurers can refuse to cover me. I went through a litany of health tests to even be chosen as a donor and am told I will live an ordinary life after surgery. Now I could be denied coverage at age 26. What about when I want to start a family? What if something else goes wrong? This gift to my mother is now a financial liability. I want to be part of a society that encourages giving life, not one that punishes donors. — Carolyn Blake, Austin
More than 133 million Americans like me have pre-existing conditions. For the first time in America, people with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied health coverage or charged exorbitant rates. The ACA prohibits these things. Now Republicans in Congress want to repeal the ACA, including the individual-responsibility part of the law. I know this is a tough pill to swallow, but maintaining protections for people with pre-existing conditions without requiring individual responsibility would cost millions of us coverage and increase premiums for even more of us. Health care reform is personal. Millions of lives are affected. The ACA allows those of us with pre-existing conditions to live healthier and more-productive lives. It also allows us to change jobs without losing health insurance. As Republicans work to repeal the ACA, I implore them to also follow the physician’s oath to first do no harm. — Janie F. Galko, Austin
With the government push to repeal and replace Obamacare, why not consider a simple solution? Principal criticisms of the ACA are inflexibility and high costs. Tenets of a “replacement” plan are flexible coverage alternatives and interstate insurance options. These objectives could be met by simply amending the existing system. Allow insurance companies to offer alternative plans in addition to the existing four ACA plans. A similar approach has worked in Medicare Part B, where “Advantage Plans” are offered in addition to original “Supplement Plans.” Let the public choose which plan is best for them. Allow access to individual state insurance exchanges from any state. This change would introduce competition and reduce costs. Why subject the nation to the Sturm und Drang of “repeal and replace” when it would be so simple to amend the existing system? An amendment would be a bipartisan, win-win solution — and it would be best for the public. The plan’s name is irrelevant. — David Butler, Georgetown
I am in full support of the Affordable Care Act. I have been able to obtain health insurance since its inception. Prior to ACA, I was paying $587 per month for health care through Blue Cross Blue Shield High Risk. It was a terrible plan and offered nothing beneficial. It was the only insurance I could obtain due to benign thyroid nodules. When ACA started up, I was able to have health care without having to worry about any pre-existing conditions and high monthly premiums. I am currently utilizing Sendero Ideal Care through the ACA. I am very happy with my doctors and the care I receive. — Jo Rae Di Menno, Austin
Just as Martin Niemoller once said, I now say: “First they came after Obamacare, and I did not speak out, because I was not on Obamacare. Then they came after Medicaid, and I did not speak out, because I was not on Medicaid. Then they came after Medicare — and there was no one left to speak for me.” I am an 89-year- old with serious and expensive medical problems. Now, I am scared to death that I will have no medical coverage in my final years as I try to stay alive with some comfort and dignity. — Herman I. Morris, Plano
WHOM TO CONTACT
The following lawmakers represent Central Texas:
John Cornyn: 202-224-2934; 517 Hart Senate Office Bldg., Washington, DC 20510
Ted Cruz: 202-224-5922; Russell Senate Office Bldg 404, Washington, DC 20510
10th District: Michael McCaul (R); 202-225-2401; 2001 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
17th District: Bill Flores (R); 202-225-6105; 2440 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
21st District: Lamar S. Smith (R); 202-225-4236; 2409 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
25th District: Roger Williams (R); 202-225-9896; 1323 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515
On Thursday morning, Austin Independent School District Trustee Paul Saldaña wrote an open letter to students in the district in response to the anxiety and fear many students across the district have reported feeling after hearing news of Donald Trump winning the presidential election. Election results-related anxiety is what led students at two local elementary schools — Sunset Valley and Matthews — to kneel during the Pledge of Allegiance on Wednesday in protest of Trump.
As a parent of a 9-year-old bright and curious child, I appreciate Saldaña’s gesture. I only wish I’d had it on Wednesday morning.
That’s when my 9 year-old son woke up wondering who had won the presidential election the night before. And, unlike past elections, I dreaded answering his question.
It was an especially trying and uncommon campaign season for us both. During most elections, I welcome reading and talking about candidates and the issues on the ballot. But, this election season, thanks to the hostile rhetoric that became to familiar, I did my best to shelter my 3rd grader from news of Trump or Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Yet, despite my efforts, we had plenty of conversations about the two candidates vying for presidency during our drives to and from school. Unfortunately, most of those conversations were to specifically address my son’s fears over something the Republican candidate had said should happen or promised to do as president. At times I wondered if I was doing much to help my son settle his anxiety.
So when my son asked who won the election, I froze and changed the subject. What more could I say? I had already spent weeks trying to ensure him that regardless of the winner, he — no, WE as a family and WE, as a country — would be fine. Yet, I knew, news of the winner would be a hard blow for his kind and sensitive soul. As a child of Mexican American parents, the grand-child of immigrants and whose group of friends are as diverse as the fabric of this country, my son took each insult made by Trump as a direct hit to those in his closest circles. So, I told him. Silent tears followed.
Then, the most heartbreaking question came: “Mom, where was I born?”
My son spent weeks worrying about what might happen to his friends who spoke a different language or whose skin color was much darker. Now, with a president-elect that has shown little regard for people who look like my son’s friends and family members, he wondered how he personally would be affected by this new president.
There are families across this country, in this city in fact, having similar conversations with their children. And their taking place at schools, as well. Some educators, like Mathews Elementary Principal Grace Martino-Brewster, have taken the time to personally address this anxiety they see in their students.
Saldaña takes it a step further. He reassures all students in the district that they matter, that they are heard and that they are safe. He also is working to organize a town hall meeting soon to address the issue, he said.
“I have been hearing from students, teachers and parents the last two days and several have requested a community conversation,” Saldana wrote in an email. “Parents are struggling how to broker and/or respond to their children.”
There’s no doubt that by now most Americans know how they’ll vote on the main ticket this presidential election, but local races are just as important — if not more so, some will argue — and deserve voters’ attention. It’s at the local level that the Editorial Board has decided to focus and dig a little deeper, providing both analytical editorials on some of the most pressing issues coupled with Q&A’s with candidates who will take on these issues if elected. Below, you’ll find a list of the races and issues we’ve chosen to weigh in on.
So whether you choose to head to the polls next week (early voting ends Nov. 4) or decide to wait for Election Day on Nov. 8, we encourage you to make it through to the end of the ballot and cast as an informed vote as much a possible. (BTW: Need more info on Austin City Council Candidates? Don’t know who represents you? No problem. Use the Statesman’s City Council Candidate Explorer to answer your questions.)
Have you noticed those “Vote Here” signs hanging outside a public library, grocery stores or public schools? No, they aren’t simply leftovers from the Uber/Lyft ordinance election that took place earlier this month. They’re evidence that the job of an involved voter is never done.
Those signs are there to remind us that Tuesday’s Runoff Election Day will determine several Republican and Democrat nominees for state and county offices. Those signs are there to remind you that your voice needs to be heard.
Never the less, it is important for voters to show up to the polls. After all, there’s still plenty of business to take care of locally – and it’s this business that most directly affects the lives of Texans. Because a larger than usual number of incumbent officeholders locally have chosen not to run for re-election, the there will be plenty of new faces.
The good news is the ballot is short since only a few items from the March primaries went unresolved, including a very tight primary race for Texas Rail Road Commissioner for both parties, the Democratic race for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1 and the Republican race for Williamson County Commissioner Precinct 1.
Today, the surviving candidates in each of those races face off in their party’s runoff. And there is plenty to consider.
In the Railroad Commissioner race, for instance, Texans have the opportunity to elect a moderate candidate. Back in March, seven Republicans and three Democrats ran for an open seat on the three-member Commission. Now, it’s down to the final four: Two in each race. While the Editorial Board has endorsed Gary Gates, one of the two Republicans left standing. The board chose not to endorse either of the Democrats left in the race.
Why, you ask, does the Railroad Commission even matter? Simple. The incorrectly named agency regulates the oil and gas industry, and as such the decisions made here determine the state’s energy and environmental future. That’s a huge responsibility. And yet, the agency is not one with controversies including growing criticism for its close ties to the oil and gas industry.
A progressive candidate, some experts say, would be a welcome change.
Even closer to home are the Travis County Commissioner Pct. 1 and Williamson County Pct. 1 races. The candidates in each position will help shape how their respective county handles transportation, health care, criminal justice and other challenges wrought by explosive population growth in those areas. Experience will go far in these seats.
Earlier this month, the editorial board made the following endorsements in those races:
Democrat Jeff Travillion for Travis County Commissioner Precinct 1.
Republican Landy Warren for Williamson County Commissioner Precinct 1.
Victories in these races will be determined by those who take the time to vote.
A USA Today poll from 2012 showed that 59 percent of nonvoters said they were frustrated because “nothing ever gets done” in government, while 54 percent cited “corruption” and 42 percent pointed to the lack of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties as their reasons for not voting. That same year, voter turnout was lower than in 2008, dropping from 62.3 percent of eligible citizens voting to 57.5 percent in 2012.
Today, voter confidence only deteriorated. Only 2 percent of Americans said they were “very satisfied” with the way things are going in the country, while 71 percent of Americans said they were dissatisfied with the state of the nation, according to a 2015 Quinnipiac poll.
With so much change in leadership coming to Central Texas, this is not the time to be disgruntled and removed from the polls. People say they don’t vote because they feel elected officials don’t serve their interests. But elected officials can only reflect the interests of those constituents who actually show up to vote.
The solution is simple. If you want change, make yourself heard at the polls.
Yes, eligible and soon-to-be-eligible voters are already looking forward to November’s big show, but pressing matters in our own back yard need your attention. Don’t miss your opportunity to have your voice heard. Go vote.
Yes, Austin is a wonderful city, and though Austin is a little too full of itself at times, and certainly less affordable than it’s ever been, there’s nowhere else in Texas I’d rather live. Austin has better restaurants than it’s ever had, great festivals and a hike and bike trail I use several times a week. One of my favorite annual events, the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series, starts next week. And to say something doesn’t “feel” like something else is, I admit, pretty intangible.
And yet …
I lived in Washington, D.C., from 1988 to 1991 before I moved to Austin. (Well, I lived just north of the district line in Silver Spring, Maryland, to be precise.) Washington is the 22nd most populous city in the United States, with a July 2015 population of 672,228, but it feels much bigger — much more like a city — than Austin.
The same is true of San Francisco, which Austin passed on the most populous list in 2011. Like Washington, San Francisco — currently the nation’s 13th most populous city, with 864,816 people — has features we associate with large cities, such as major art and science museums, convenient public transportation, multiple vibrant and walk-able neighborhoods, and big-league professional sports teams. Austin lacks many of these kinds of things.
Part of the difference is D.C. and San Francisco are part of metropolitan areas that are significantly more populous than the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area that includes Travis, Williamson, Bastrop, Caldwell and Hays counties. It was front-page news in March when the Census Bureau reported that the population of the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area had surpassed 2 million residents between July 1, 2014, and July 1, 2015. Even so, the Austin metropolitan area ranks only 33rd in population.
Despite its growth and evolution, despite its transformed skyline and more diverse and energetic downtown, despite its having awakened years ago from its slumber as a sleepy college and government town, Austin remains largely suburban in character. It’s one reason why I don’t think of Austin as a city in the same way I think of D.C. or San Francisco as cities. Or Seattle, Denver and Portland, Oregon, for that matter — three cites with 250,000 to 300,000 fewer people than Austin, but which feel larger than they are, while Austin feels smaller than it is.
Topping Thursday’s census report was the news that Georgetown grew faster between July 2014 and July 2015 than any other city with a population of at least 50,000. New Braunfels was No. 2 on the bureau’s list of fastest-growing cities; Pflugerville was No. 11.
As of July 2015, Georgetown had 63,716 residents — 7.8 percent more people lived in Georgetown last summer than lived there the previous July. New Braunfels grew at a 6.6 percent rate, to 70,543 people. Pflugerville’s growth rate was 4.5 percent; it had an estimated population of 57,122.
Austin, meanwhile, added another 19,117 people between July 2014 and July 2015, bringing its population to 931,830 and keeping the city well on track to reach the 1 million mark by 2020. Only seven cities (Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Dallas among them) added more people, in raw numbers, than Austin did. However, in terms of growth rate — 2.1 percent — it was Austin’s slowest population gain in years.
Strong urban growth, but stronger growth in the suburbs and exurbs. This is the long story of Thursday’s census numbers. Consider that Austin grew by 17.9 percent from 2010 to 2015, but Georgetown grew by 34.4 percent over the same period.
Any discussion about all the traffic this growth causes put aside, clearly many people prefer living outside cities, where more space can be bought for less money. Even millennials, often seen as hipsters solidly committed to city living, are proving to be as attracted to the lower housing costs and family friendliness of the suburbs as their parents and grandparents were before them. Many others in Austin, of course, are forced to leave city neighborhoods that are no longer affordable for suburban ones that are.
As for its place on the list of most populous cities, Austin will remain just outside the top 10 for another dozen years, assuming current trends and city boundaries hold. The 10th most populous city in the country is San Jose, Calif., which had a population of 1,026,908 as of July 1, 2015 — 95,078 residents ahead of Austin’s 931,830. San Jose is growing, too, though at a slower rate than Austin. Austin’s move past San Jose might come in 2028, give or take a year or two.
And that is where Austin will stay for the rest of my lifetime. Dallas is No. 9, with a population of 1,300,092. That’s a 368,262-person lead over Austin, and Dallas is adding a lot of people each year, too —19,642 between 2014 and 2015. In the No. 8 spot is San Diego (pop. 1,394,928), which Dallas might pass around 2030 but which Austin won’t pass, given current trends, for another 70 years or more. By then Austin may be just another cluster in the great Texas Interstate 35 megalopolis. You know, the one without the professional sports team.