Texas zipped past the 25 million mark as it topped the national growth chart for the last decade by adding 4,293,741 residents, according to 2010 Census figures released Tuesday.
The Lone Star State's population swelled to 25,145,561, a 20.6 percent increase since 2000, Census Director Robert Groves announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
By comparison, the United States population grew to 308,745,538, up 9.7 percent since 2000, the slowest growth rate since the Great Depression, Groves said.
Texas' numbers add up to one word for Texas demographer Steve Murdock: "Phenomenal."
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"I was a little bit surprised about how large the change was," said Murdock, a Rice University professor and former U.S. Census director. "I thought it would be about 25 million, but that 4.2 million increase is unprecedented in Texas history."
By percentage, Texas' growth was the fifth-highest, trailing Nevada (35.1 percent), Arizona (24.1 percent), Utah (23.8 percent) and Idaho (21.1 percent).
"That percentage growth is really surprising. It's striking because size typically brings down rates," said Karl Eschbach, director of population research at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
California, which grew by 10 percent, remains the most populous state (37,253,956). Texas is second, followed by New York (19,378,102), Florida (18,801,310) and Illinois (12,830,632).
"To put those numbers in perspective, California, which grew by 3.3 million, has 12 million more people but grew by 900,000 less than Texas did," Murdock said.
Texas' growth continues a decades-long trend.
Texas grew by 22.8 percent from 1990 to 2000, 19.4 percent in 1980-90, 27.1 percent in 1970-80 and 16.9 percent in 1960-70, according to the Census Bureau.
"We have basically doubled our population since 1975," Murdock said.
Hispanics a force
Demographers point to Hispanics as the primary force behind Texas' growth.
"When we look at our projections, they suggest that somewhere around 70 percent of those new Texans added to the state are of Hispanic descent," state Demographer Lloyd Potter said.
Hispanics' high birth rate is a big part of that equation, Murdock said.
"A couple of years ago, demographers looked at the birth-to-death ratios across the country," he said. "They looked at all groups except Hispanics and there were 1.3 births per death. For Hispanics it was eight births to one death. Growth is increasingly dependent on non-Anglo populations."
A recession-based surge in out-of-state job seekers migrating to Texas has also plumped up the numbers, experts say.
"We've been seeing this for the last five years," Eschbach said. "The largest direct migration flow from one state to another is California to Texas.
"We were the last state to get caught by the recession, and that was fueling a lot of domestic migration. That raised our growth rate in relation to other states -- Florida, Arizona and Nevada have slowed down in the last three years as Texas picked up. It confirms the picture we've seen since the recession started."
Jobs and population increases go hand in hand, Potter said.
"It certainly speaks to both the resiliency and strength of the economy in Texas. In-migration basically doesn't occur without employment opportunities. Nearly half of our growth is people moving here," he said. "That certainly implies there is opportunity here.
"When we look at migrants, the unemployment rate is very low for people who lived in another state last year. People aren't moving here to be unemployed."
Metroplex a hot spot
But the growth trend isn't playing out evenly across the state.
"It's all concentrated in four parts of the state: Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-Galveston, San Antonio-Austin and the Rio Grande Valley," Murdock said.
Those areas account for about 90 percent of the change in the state's population, he said. "There are going to be lots of Texans in lots of parts of the state saying, 'That isn't us.' It's feast or famine."
Experts don't expect Texas' growth to slow anytime soon.
"We shouldn't just assume the population dynamics of the last three or four years will stay the same," Eschbach cautioned. "We should expect to see some readjustments going forward, and I suspect Texas domestic migration will slow slightly. The recession has made some distortions of migration patterns.
"But in the foreseeable future, I don't see Texas losing its position as a growth leader."
Steve Campbell, 817-390-7981