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By W. Gardner Selby January 19, 2010

Linda Chavez-Thompson says "most Texans aren't millionaires"

Linda Chavez-Thompson kicked off her campaign for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor by assailing the personal wealth of incumbent Republican David Dewhurst, who’s jet-fueled three winning statewide campaigns partly from personal funds.

Chavez-Thompson, whose background lies in labor unions, said Jan. 4: “I know I will be an underdog against Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, who is a comfortable millionaire. But most Texans are not millionaires.”

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See her single out the Lone Star state's wealth stereotype at the 1:08 mark of the video at right, which was posted on YouTube by the Texas Tribune.

Thanks go to Chavez-Thompson for stating the obvious. We here at PolitiFact aren't millionaires and expect most Texans aren't, either.

Still, Chavez-Thompson caused us to wonder: How many Texans are millionaires? And are many Texans well off compared to people elsewhere?

We found that the latest statistics on Texas millionaires date back a few years. In 2004, according to an Internal Revenue Service estimate posted online in 2008, Texas was home to 108,000 individuals whose net worth was $1.5 million or more. (Why the $1.5 million benchmark? We don't know, but we suspect that a meager $1 million doesn't go as far as it used to.)

Karl Eschbach, the state demographer, peeked at the same analysis and offered a quick caveat: The estimate was reached before the nation entered a recession partly driven by plunging home values, fueling drops in net worth.

In 2004, 1 in 208 Texans were in the $1.5-million wealth tier--about 1/2 of 1 percent of the state's nearly 22.5 million residents. Texas ranked 37th nationally in its share of individuals with net worth of $1.5 million or more. Connecticut ranked first, Florida second, the District of Columbia third.

Eschbach noted that the wealthiest people in Texas were better off than their rich counterparts in most states. In 2004, Texas ranked 18th in the average net worth of individuals whose net worth was $1.5 million or more. The average net wealth of such Texans was more than $4.5 million.

We also found a 2001 estimate, based on an IRS sampling of federal tax returns, suggesting Texas was home to 182,000 millionaires, amounting to less than 1 percent of its 21.3 million residents that year.

California was the heady home to 572,000 millionaires, New York to 317,000 and Florida to 249,000

Even Illinois had more millionaires, at 185,000, making us scratch our heads: When was the last time peacock-proud Texans had to fret about keeping up with residents of the Land of Lincoln?

In her campaign kickoff speech, Chavez-Thompson didn’t recap the less salutary fact that Texas families rated as poorer than families nationally. In 2007, according to the Census Bureau, half of American households had income exceeding $50,740 and half made less than that. Texas had a median household income of $47,548.

Of course, Texas still had enclaves of wealth. According to the bureau’s study, the Dallas suburb of Plano was a nationally prominent pocket of lucre, with a median household income of $84,492.

At the other end of the scale, the state retained bastions of poverty along the Mexico border. Residents of El Paso County had median household incomes of $34,980 while residents of Hidalgo and Cameron counties had median incomes of $30,295 and $29,347, respectively, both ranking worse off than other U.S. counties.

As of 2008, nearly 16 percent of Texans (3.8 million residents) lived in poverty, with 22.5 percent of children living in poverty, according to the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for government aid to low-income residents. Nationally, 13.2 percent of residents lived in poverty, including 18.2 percent of children.

Eschbach said sizing up the state's wealth is no cinch.

"You have a lot of major corporations headquartered here. You've got a lot of wealth creation," Eschbach said. "In that respect, we certainly aren't the wealthiest state or the poorest state. We do have a large representation of very disadvantaged people. At the same time, we have a robust economy."

Much debate lies in the details. Yet to Eschbach and the rest of Texas, Chavez-Thompson's statement was no surprise.

We rate her statement True.

Our Sources

Center for Public Policy Priorities, "Poverty 101," September 2009

Internal Revenue Service, "Top Wealthholders by State of Residence," accessed Jan. 11, 2010

Interview, Karl Eschbach, Texas state demographer, Jan. 19, 2010

Texas State Library,
"United States and Texas Populations 1850-2009," accessed Jan. 19, 2010

U.S. Census Bureau,
"Income, Earnings, and Poverty Data From the 2007 American Community Survey," August 2008

U.S. Census Bureau, “Texas Selected Economic Characteristics: 2006-2008, American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates,” accessed Jan. 5, 2010

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