Is there room for everyone in this growing economy?


Fast growth makes some Austin residents feel as if they are being pushed out.

Austin often appears on “best cities” lists for our strong economy and quality of life. With an unemployment rate that is lower than both the state and nation, and fast population growth, we rank high on most economic scorecards. However, many people do not share in the benefits of this prosperity.

While Travis County’s annual unemployment rate was only 3.2% in 2015, the majority of the jobs created over the last 10 years do not pay enough to meet families’ basic needs. A comparison of wage data from the Capital Area Council of Governments and estimates of what it takes to meet basic needs by the Center for Public Policy Priorities shows that 69% of all jobs created between 2005 and 2015 paid less than the hourly wage required to meet the basic needs of a family with one adult and two children.

Many high-wage jobs are beyond the reach of local residents, and income is not keeping pace with the cost of living. While median household income has increased by 10% over the past five years, median rent and home values have increased by about 16%. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, 86% of renters who earn less than $35,000 a year pay more than 30% of their total income for housing.

Young people find they can’t afford to raise their families in neighborhoods where they grew. Senior citizens struggle financially to stay in the homes and neighborhoods they love. Our reputation as the Live Music Capital of the World and as a community supportive of the creative arts is threatened as many people in these industries can no longer afford to live here.

Moreover, the high desirability and redevelopment of historically minority and lower-income communities, like Central East Austin, have displaced long-time residents as they struggle to keep up with rising costs. This has forced people with less means to move further away from the urban core to places with fewer services, job opportunities, and reduced options for transit. This displacement has also disrupted the fabric of communities and the social, cultural, and economic ties that have historically defined them.

In 2015, the Martin Prosperity Institute’s Segregated City report found that Austin has the highest level of overall economic segregation of any large metro in the United States, based on an index that combines income, educational and occupational segregation. Concerns over economic segregation have gained intense interest in recent years, in part because studies indicate that where someone lives can have significant impact on their life prospects.

Will an increasingly economically segregated Austin limit opportunities for upward mobility for low-income residents and imperil our city’s long-term vitality? How will it impact the culture and very heart of who we are as a community? What can business, government, and individuals do to foster a brighter future for all members of our community?

Join the conversation

Leaders from Community Advancement Network, Civic Collaboration, Interfaith Action of Central Texas, and Leadership Austin have been participating in a Kettering Foundation Learning Collaborative designed to provide assistance to local communities that are hosting deliberative dialogues about a community issue.

The purpose of these dialogues is to bring people together to discuss and grapple with important and difficult community issues. What we look like in the future depends on what each of us decides to do in this moment about the growth challenges facing us today. I encourage you to join in any of these conversations by going to

South Discussion (en Español and English)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016, 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

El Buen Samaritano

7000 Woodhue Drive

Northeast Discussion

Monday, June 27, 2016, 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Goodwill Industries

1015 Norwood Park Blvd.

This post was previously published in the May/June 2016 issue of the Austin REALTOR® magazine, by author Christopher Kennedy, CEO – Leadership Austin.


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