DALLAS — As North Texas and its affluent suburbs help fuel the state’s continued population growth, Dallas County is seeing a growing divide in the economic opportunities available to its residents, and it’s becoming more difficult for the poorest people — who are far more likely to be people of color — to pull themselves out of poverty.
Those are among many findings in an “economic opportunity assessment” of the county released Tuesday. The report was compiled by the nonprofit Communities Foundation of Texas and the left-leaning Center for Public Policy Priorities.
“Dallas County has high levels of geographic segregation by race-ethnicity, income, educational attainment and wealth,” the study says. “What this means for low-to-moderate income Dallas residents – and for people of color who are disproportionately represented in that category – is that where they live profoundly influences their access to opportunity.”
The report paints a stark picture of economic disparities in a county that now has 11 census tracts where most of the residents are living below the national poverty line — and minorities make up the majority of the population in all of them. In all, Dallas County has 529 census tracts.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said while he's proud of his city's many economic development achievements, it's important not to ignore the divergent trajectories of residents, which can largely be tracked based on the color of their skin and where they live.
"We need this sort of stuff that helps us examine what is taking place," he said.
More than 200 business and civic leaders — most of them white — gathered to hear the report's findings Tuesday morning. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins told the crowd that business owners and executives have a duty to examine whether they're paying minority employees and contract workers the same wages as whites.
"Look in the mirror and think about what you're going to do about it," he said.
While Dallas County continues to attract new jobs, its residents’ median income fell $10,000 from 1999 to 2015. The county added more than 535,000 new jobs between 2006 and 2015, but 63 percent of those new position have a median wage of below $50,000.
More than 60 percent of the county's workers are now in jobs with a median wage below $50,000. Nearly one-fourth of them have a median wage below $25,000.
And because the county’s low-income workers are more likely to be minorities, the situation is worsening the economic disparities that have long existed between black and Hispanic residents and their white counterparts, the report said.
The report also found that black and Hispanic residents on average earn less than 60 cents for every dollar that white residents bring home.
The only residents who saw their average wages increase between 2006 and 2015 were those in the highest income bracket. People in the four other income brackets saw their average paychecks shrink over that same period.
And when it comes to education, the report concluded that whites in Dallas County are 5.2 times more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree than Hispanics and 2.4 times more likely to earn such a degree than black residents — in a county whose population is expected to be 88 percent people of color by 2050.
"Opportunity for folks of color is going to be opportunity for the community itself," said Frances Deviney, CPPP's chief operating officer.
Nearly three-fourths of the county’s public school students are economically disadvantaged. And only 16.5 percent of students who were in eighth grade in 2006 received a degree or credential from a Texas college or university by last year. That number echoes findings in The Texas Tribune’s statewide look at higher education outcomes.
But even people of color who continue their education after high school see disparities in the amount of money they're paid compared to whites. Deviney said the average person of color must earn a degree above that held by an average white person to make the same amount of money.
As a result, she said minorities have more student loan debt, which leaves them less money for housing, food and other necessities.
"That's a huge burden, not only on the individual, but on the community," Deviney said.
The assessment also comes with a litany of policy recommendations that include creating incentives for minority- and immigrant-owned businesses to locate in low-opportunity neighborhoods, improving transit service to reduce commute times and put "financial opportunity centers" in targeted neighborhoods.
"We're not going to change things overnight," Rawlings said. "Just remind yourself this can be done in one generation."
Disclosure: The Center for Public Policy Priorities and the Communities Foundation of Texas have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.