Hobby Study Provides a Look at Texas, By the Numbers

Report Provides Key Information for Policymakers, Business

What health services should a public health district provide? How should community colleges balance GED and other remedial classes with sophisticated workforce training?

Policymakers and business leaders depend on accurate, up-to-date information to plan for the future. A new report from the Hobby School of Public Affairs offers a wide-ranging look at Texas residents, from births to teen mothers to education levels, poverty and the ability of people to move upward over their lifetimes, as well as inter-generational mobility, or the likelihood that a person will have more education and a higher income than their parents.

The report, “Intergenerational Mobility Project: A Snapshot of Social Mobility in Texas,” is the first in an ongoing initiative at the Hobby School, designed to create an evolving picture of Texas residents.

John Antel, an economics professor who led the project, said it offers information crucial for both government officials and the private sector, from forecasts of future tax revenues to workforce training needs.

“Social mobility shows us whether, and where, people are rising up the escalator,” Antel said. “Some regions of the state are doing far better than others.”

Pablo Pinto, associate professor and director of the Center for Public Policy at the Hobby School, noted that the study uncovered stark differences in social mobility, educational attainment and economic achievement.

“In the next stage, we will expand our analysis to conditions explaining why access to education and the formation of human capital vary across Texas,” he said. That will be used to inform debate on the design and implementation of effective public policies.

The report was produced as a capstone project by students in the Master of Public Policy program, using data from the Texas Department of Health Services, the Texas Education Agency, and the U.S. Census to derive indicators of opportunity and mobility, which can predict future local personal incomes that can be used to direct remedial policies and gauge policy progress for various geographic areas.

Among the findings: 

  • The Rio Grande Valley has the highest number of negative factors for social mobility, from births to teen mothers to low education levels and high poverty.
  • Metropolitan regions, especially the region including Austin, have fewer negative indicators. The Austin region reported the highest standardized test scores for students in elementary and middle school, as well as the highest scores on college admissions tests.
  • The lowest rates of prenatal care are in the Rio Grande Valley and east Texas. Teen mothers are most common in the Rio Grande Valley and west Texas. While all regions report some people living in poverty, it is most prevalent in south Texas.
  • Gini coefficients in all areas of the state – a measure of inequality – top the average for members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Jim Granato, executive director of the Hobby School, said measures of social mobility are important because they have implications for the opportunity and long-term social prosperity of a region and the state. Local policy initiatives are often the most effective way to promote opportunity and social mobility, he said.

The new report is part of on-going initiative for the Hobby School, which focuses on work that can help guide state and local policymakers in Texas. Renée Cross, associate director of the Hobby School, said future versions of the social mobility study will allow the school to further refine policy recommendations in a number of areas such as education, health care and home ownership.

“Policymakers need access to reliable data, especially data that illustrates how a particular policy intervention affects people over time,” she said.

The school announced earlier this month that it has launched a survey to follow as many as 2,000 people in Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties over five years to gauge how both individuals and neighborhoods are recovering from Hurricane Harvey, as well as support for public policies aimed at mitigating future disasters.


Cover photo: Getty Images