A Happy Houston?

Study reveals Houstonians surprisingly optimistic even in light of energy downturn

Study reveals Houstonians surprisingly optimistic despite oil bust

Houston skyline freeway aerial
The Kinder Houston Area Survey examines four key focus points. Photo by Jim Olive/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

With traffic congestion the new normal, a potential crisis in education, and the oil patch decline, Houstonians remain surprisingly optimistic about the future of the nation's fourth largest city. That according to the 2016 Kinder Houston Area Survey presented Monday at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research annual luncheon.

As institute founder Stephen Klineberg reviewed the compelling look at statistical life in the greater Houston area, he noted that on the whole Houstonians, in growing numbers, expect their financial situations to improve in the next few years and, although the numbers have slipped slightly, most Houstonians still feel that job opportunities here are excellent to good.

"While the number of jobs has dissipated, there is still a certain amount of optimism in Houston," he said adding that it is "classic Houston optimism" that drives individual's assessments of their future personal financial situations. "That optimism is part of our DNA," he offered.

Klineberg made his presentation to an audience of 1,200 at the Hilton Americas-Houston. The Rice University-affiliated study covers four areas — Economic Outlooks, Assessing Diversity, Public Attitudes and Policies and County Differences. The full report can be accessed here.

Problems addressed

In the mid-'90s, it was crime that most concerned Houstonians, according to the study. Today, it is traffic. "It's going to be our central challenge as Houston grows," Klineberg said, adding, "We have to rethink some of the ways by which the city organizes itself." 

The study's review of public education reveals what Klineberg refers to as "the most devastating statistics for who we are." Houston Independent School District graduates are sorely unprepared for college with only 6 percent of African-American graduates and 7 percent of Hispanics college-ready. Almost 53 percent of white and Asian HISD grads are prepared for post-high school study.

That education gap must be resolved, he said, if Houston is to attain and maintain a global status.

Wealth of diversity

"In the last 30 years, Houston has become the most ethnically diverse city in the country," Klineberg said, "No city has been transformed as completely, as irreversibly as Houston."

The survey shows that Fort Bend County has evolved as the most diverse county in the nation with almost equal representation by Anglos, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians (other minorities included in the latter).

The challenge, he noted, is to insure "that this diversity becomes a tremendous asset," alluding to the "new economy where education is critical in our own demographic evolution."

Klineberg was honored on this 35th anniversary of the area study with Rice University president David Leebron presenting the Rice professor with the Kinder Urban Visionary Award. 

In addressing the relevance of the study, Klineberg noted that the results present "a template for informal decision making."