Travis County Fails

Travis County is one of the worst places to grow up, according to new study

Travis County is one of the worst places to grow up, says new study

Austin skyline lake
A new study says Travis County is one of the worst places for upward mobility.  Photo by Katie Friel

A new study from the Equality of Opportunity Project has tracked how neighborhoods affect upward mobility for children, and Travis County doesn't fare very well. Researchers looked at tax records from more than 5 million children whose families moved to different counties between 1996 and 2012. The report quantifies how the place where a child grows up affects his or her chances for success later in life.

Unfortunately for Austin-area residents, the statistics paint a grim picture for kids — low income and those in the top 1 percent — who live here. According to the findings, Travis County fares poorly for income mobility, especially in low-income families. Assuming that a child spends 20 years growing up in Travis County, he or she is expected to make 8 percent less ($1,960) than the average annual income at age 26.

"[Travis County is] among the worst counties in the U.S. in helping poor children up the income ladder," reads an analysis of the report in the New York Times. "It ranks 320th out of 2,478 counties, better than only about 13 percent of counties. It is relatively worse for poor boys than it is for poor girls."

Children who grow up in bordering Hays and Caldwell counties earn 6 percent less than the average annual income at age 26. In contrast, Williamson, Bastrop and Burnet counties are better places to spend a childhood. The expected income is 7, 4 and 3 percent higher, respectively, than the average. Of our Central Texas neighbors, Lee County offers the best prospects, with a projected income 15 percent higher than the average.

Travis County fares worse than other counties that house major Texas cities: 

  • Bexar County (San Antonio) residents earn 7 percent less
  • Dallas County (Dallas) residents earn 5 percent less
  • Harris Country (Houston) residents earn 1 percent less
  • Tarrant County (Fort Worth) earn the national average

The study highlighted five characteristics in the environments that led to success later in life: better schools, low crime rates, low rates of income and racial segregation, higher income equality, and more two-parent households. The research supports policies that will improve these criteria, specifically ones that aim to "reduce segregation and concentrated poverty in cities (e.g., affordable housing subsidies or changes in zoning laws) as well as efforts to improve public schools."

Visit the Equality of Opportunity Project website for a look at the full study. For an analysis of the work, visit the New York Times.