Three Ways the Census Helps Texans

By Jef Rouner

It’s not like states are trying to stay under occupancy so the rave doesn’t get broken up by a fire marshal, so why is the census important? Well, there is a lot more to it than just the government knowing how many people live in an area.

1. Businesses invest in part because of population data

Before a company opens a major, job-creating enterprise in a state, they look at a lot of factors. One of those is population statistics. A growing population indicates a ready workforce and a general satisfaction with the area. If you have a big population but people are leaving in droves, you might be able to hire people but not keep them.

Population statistics and projections were among the data Amazon collected before deciding on its second headquarters locations, and Texas didn’t get one. An accurate count of the people of the state, especially one like Texas where the population is booming, means more investment from companies. Take Austin, for example. Apple, Amazon and H-E-B are expanding there, according to KVUE

2. Texas becomes an electoral kingmaker

Texas already is the second-biggest prize in the Electoral College, and the distance between first and second is closing. For the first time ever, California is poised to lose a congressional seat after the census, and Texas is set to gain as many as three. There would still be quite a gap, more than Alaska, Delaware, and the Dakotas combined, but the difference is that unlike New York and California, Texas is rapidly approaching swing state status. The big score plus a robust fight between the parties means more attention is being paid nationally to issues that affect Texas, such as storm recovery and the expanding wind power industry. Undercounting the state could lessen Texans’ impact.

3. There are billions of dollars at stake

The census is one of the few constitutionally mandated duties of the federal government, and a lot of spending is tied to it because of its reliability as a metric. Nearly $1 trillion is decided by population statistics generated by the census.

For instance, do you live in a rural area of Texas in desperate need of some infrastructure aid to your water system? Hard definitions of “rural” populations are baked into the equations used for federal grants to communities. Aid to transit systems in urban areas is also decided by population trends. The more people are counted the more accurate the picture of mass transit in an area, and in return the more helpful grants to systems will be. 

Another worry is Medicaid. If the population is undercounted, it looks like the residents who are counted are wealthier than they actually are. That can lead to problems with Medicaid allocations. A George Washington University study found that undercounting by just one percent, it could cost the state at least $1,161 per person in Medicaid reimbursements. That’s state tax money (paid mostly by Texans at the checkout counter) that is just lost if people do not fill out census forms.

In 2010, Texas had a terrible census return percentage. Only 71 percent of the state filled out their paperwork, below the national average of 74 percent. The undercounting tends to be centered in rural, hard-to-reach communities, populations of immigrants, the homeless, and the poor. All of these groups need programs that are driven in part by the population count. As the state legislature has decided not to allocate additional funds to help the census, it falls on Texans once again to take personal initiative. There is a lot riding on it.

Six Ways to Enjoy Valentine’s Day Weekend in Texas

By Emma Balter

Valentine’s Day falls on a Friday this year, making it the perfect occasion for couples to skip town and celebrate over a long weekend. There are plenty of things to do in Texas to get your romantic juices flowing while also taking in some culture or nature. Here are six inspiring destinations across the state.

1. Escape to Fredericksburg

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg is full of charm. The town settled by German immigrants features bucolic architecture and many shops, restaurants and bars that cater to thousands of tourists every year—Texas Monthly recently called it the “new Aspen.” Get a table at Otto’s German Bistro to wine and dine your date, and stay at Hoffman Haus, which has a collection of quaint cottages.

2. Bring your valentine to Valentine

Yep, there’s an actual town in Texas called Valentine (with a population of 125, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates). It apparently got its name when railroad workers were laying tracks in 1882. When they got to the point where a fuel depot was needed, it was Valentine’s Day, so they named the gas station Valentine. The town hosts a Valentine’s Day celebration every year, but if you can’t make it in person, you can send your sweetheart’s card there to be re-mailed with a Valentine postmark.

3. Go stargazing at Big Bend National Park

Big Bend, established in 1944, is the crown jewel of national parks in Texas. It also happens to be an incredible place for stargazing. In 2012, it was designated a Dark Sky Park, a title reserved for sites that have an exceptional level of sky brightness. Take a hike, pack a picnic, and gaze into your loved one’s eyes as well as the stars above.

4. Ride in a hot air balloon

Why admire the sky from the ground when you could be in the sky? Rohr Balloons is a family-owned business that has been flying hot air balloons over North Texas since 1972. The balloons take off near Allen, and you can choose from a variety of packages, from flights shared with other passengers to private couple rides. Champagne and hors d’oeuvres are included! If you want to propose on Valentine’s Day, this could be the way to go because Rohr has a special engagement package.

5. Indulge in a dinner cruise on Lady Bird Lake

Lady Bird Johnson was a beloved figure in Texas and U.S. politics. It’s only natural that one of Austin’s major lakes is named after her, and basically just as natural that you take a cruise on it this Valentine’s Day. Capital Cruises is offering a special couples package on its Public Moonlight Cruise, complete with complimentary wine and treats. You can also rent a private electric boat for two for extra privacy.

6. Stay at home and drink Texas wine

You can’t always go big every Valentine’s Day, but if you decide to cozy up at home, this doesn’t mean you can’t make it special. Support the amazing work Texas winemakers are doing by drinking local this Feb. 14. William Chris Vineyards has two Valentine’s Day specials: a three-pack of red blends and a case of rosé. Other great wine producers in the state include Southold, Lewis, Lost Draw, McPherson, and many more.