The Counting Man
By: Dr. M. Ray Perryman
Published in syndication April 19, 2023
Dr. Steve Murdock, our foremost Texas demographer and my dear friend, recently passed away. Steve had a distinguished career spanning endowed positions at three major universities, designation as the State Demographer, and a stint as Director of the US Census Bureau. More important, however, he was the clarion voice proclaiming a reality that we all needed to hear.
Over 40+ years, Steve and I undoubtedly shared hundreds of platforms and hearing rooms and many more hours of lively conversation about my native and his adopted state. We often collaborated on projects. He had a wonderful wit that was about as dry as his subject matter. Whenever I was asked to assemble a group to explore the future of Texas, he was my first call -- and he invariably said "Yes!" I tried to reciprocate. Our research approaches were vastly different, but we were bound by an unwavering belief that the results we generate are neither liberal nor conservative -- Republican nor Democratic. They are simply the unbiased product of careful analysis.
One of our more humorous interactions occurred as he was being named the first "State Demographer" by the legislature. I always testified supporting his requests for additional funding, but, in this instance, he asked that I prepare a brief analysis showing the value of his efforts. For decades afterwards, I called it "The Economic Impact of Steve Murdock" study. That apparently annoyed him greatly (which, after all, was the point), but I think (hope) that he secretly enjoyed it. In fact, it made its way into some of his infamously dense slide presentations.
As noted, demography is not the most scintillating of sciences. Essentially, it is the study of how many of us are born, how many die, and where we live in between. What Steve found in his tedious efforts was, however, a gripping tale of obstacles and opportunity. Texas remains in the midst of massive changes in the sheer size of its population, with seismic shifts occurring in age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and urban/suburban concentration. These movements have profound policy implications for public and higher education, workforce preparedness, healthcare access and affordability, infrastructure, water resources, rural viability, metropolitan area livability, and myriad other issues.
Through prolific writing and speaking, Steve kept these facts ever before us, reminding us that the stakes were immeasurably high. It is no exaggeration that the demographic patterns which he painstakingly chronicled simultaneously represent the greatest potential asset and the most formidable challenge facing Texas.
Steve Murdock meticulously documented the half of the equation that we don't control. Our future prosperity -- indeed, our future sustainability -- depends on our response. The messenger will be sorely missed, but the message will endure and must be heeded! Stay safe!