Madlin Mekelburg
By Madlin Mekelburg February 7, 2020

Does San Antonio have lowest per capita income of 'major' Texas cities?

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  • Looking at Texas cities with 500,000 people or more, San Antonio has the second lowest per capita income, followed by El Paso.
  • Other measurements of income and poverty show San Antonio on the lower end, when compared to other Texas cities of a similar size.

During a meeting with the San Antonio City Council, former mayor Henry Cisneros made a pitch for a new transportation plan that emphasizes roads over public mass transit.

Cisneros, who served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton, highlighted the need for more money to go toward transportation and explained how this kind of investment could transform the city.

"We are a poor city," Cisneros said of San Antonio. "We have the lowest per capita income of any major Texas city."

We ran the numbers, and the latest figures show that San Antonio has a lower per capita income than some, but not all, of the state’s most populous cities.

Cisneros did not return a request for comment seeking clarification on his definition of a major Texas city.

To be clear: there is no universal definition of a major city, so we looked at Texas cities with a population estimate of at least 500,000 in 2018.

Census figures show rankings

To check this claim, we looked at yearly estimates of per capita income from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Per capita income is "the mean income computed for every man, woman, and child in a particular group," according to the Census Bureau. In this case, those groups are Texas cities.

The per capita income is calculated by "dividing the aggregate income of a particular group by the total population in that group." The final figure is rounded to the nearest whole dollar.

In 2018, the per capita income in Texas was $30,641. In the United States, it was $33,831.

Looking at individual Texas cities reveals a wide range of values, from $65,743 in The Woodlands, a master planned community north of Houston, to $15,369 in Pharr, a city on the Texas-Mexico border east of McAllen.

In San Antonio, per capita income in 2018 was $24,684.

San Antonio is the second most populous city in the state (1.5 million), preceded by Houston (2.3 million) and followed in order by Dallas (1.3 million), Austin (964,254), Fort Worth (895,008) and El Paso (840,758), according to 2018 population figures.

 

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Here’s the per capita income in 2018 in these cities, presented from highest to lowest:

  1. Austin: $42,923
  2. Houston: $31,162
  3. Fort Worth: $29,010
  4. Dallas: $27,729
  5. San Antonio: $24,684
  6. El Paso: $22,777

An analysis of the rankings of these cities each year from 2010 through 2018 shows that San Antonio is low on the list, followed by El Paso.

Another way to assess income in a community is to look at median household income or median family income. Median household income includes the income of the householder and anyone else living in the home over 15 years old.

This figure is different than median family income, according to the Census Bureau: "Because many households consist of only one person, average household income is usually less than average family income."

Median family income looks at incomes of "all members 15 years old and over related to the householder."

In 2018, the median household income in San Antonio was $49,024, lower than all of the six most populous Texas cities besides El Paso ($45,031).

San Antonio’s median family income was $60,689 in 2018, a higher figure than Dallas ($58,835), Houston ($56,693) and El Paso ($50,245).

Poverty in San Antonio

Cisneros made this claim after stating that San Antonio is "a poor city," so we also looked at poverty data available from the Census Bureau for the 10 most populous cities in the state.

In 2018 in San Antonio, about 19% of its population was living below the poverty line — more than any of the other cities with populations over 500,000.

Take at look at each city and the percent of its population below the poverty line, ordered from highest to lowest: 

  1. San Antonio: 19%
  2. Houston: 18.2%
  3. El Paso: 18.1%
  4. Dallas: 15.7%
  5. Fort Worth: 13.5%
  6. Austin: 12.5%

Another factor worth mentioning here is cost of living. San Antonio may be among the cities with the lowest per capita income, but the cost of living is also on the lower end.

The Economic Policy Institute‘s Family Budget Map shows an estimated cost of living for a two-parent, two-child family in counties across the state.

Here is the cost of living per year in the predominate county in each city with a population over 500,000, in order from highest to lowest:

  1. Austin‘s Travis County: $80,766
  2. Fort Worth‘s Tarrant County: $76,908
  3. Houston‘s Harris County: $73,010 
  4. Dallas‘ Dallas County: $72,021
  5. San Antonio‘s Bexar County: $71,278 
  6. El Paso‘s El Paso County: $66,634  

Our ruling

Cisneros said that San Antonio has "the lowest per capita income of any major Texas city."

San Antonio is among the six most populous Texas cities with the lowest per capita income. El Paso has consistently recorded a lower per capita income than San Antonio.

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Henry G. Cisneros — Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Jan. 20, 2009
 
U.S. Census, Per Capita Income in the Past 12 Months for all years from 2010 to 2018, accessed Feb. 3, 2020
 
American Community Survey and Puerto Rico Community Survey, 2018 Subject Definitions, accessed Feb. 4, 2020
 
Economic Policy Institute, Family Budget Map, accessed Feb. 7, 2020

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