Population hike: Census 2020 showed Harlingen gained 6,980 residents, up 10.8%

HARLINGEN — Census 2020 numbers are in and show the City of Harlingen gaining nearly 7,000 new residents over the past decade, a healthy increase of nearly 11 percent.

The city took a far more intense approach to this census, acknowledging census undercounting in previous surveys has been an historical issue up and down the Rio Grande Valley.

“We knew that we had to take an aggressive approach in getting people counted, so we did start early. We did implement several plans. We did have several events to encourage people to get counted, and we had information set up at different venues that some of our events to encourage people to get counted and how to get counted,” City Manager Dan Serna said Tuesday.

Yet despite those extra efforts, Serna said he believes the city probably was undercounted yet again by Census 2020.

“I do believe that we were undercounted, and a big reason for that is because we were in the midst of COVID while we were trying to accomplish the census, which had its own challenges,” Serna said.

The official population number for Harlingen is now 71,829, up from 64,849 in 2010, a gain of 10.8 percent.

Other Valley cities also recorded population growth in this latest census, with Edinburg leading the way among big cities, going from 77,100 residents in 2010 to 100,423 residents, a gain of 30 percent.

McAllen saw its population rise from 129,877 to 142,210, a 9.5 percent gain, and Brownsville went from 175,023 residents in 2010 to 186,738, a gain of 6.7 percent.

These numbers are critical factors given the widespread use of census population figures for allocating federal and state funding. Losing just one resident is estimated to cost a city $1,500 annually in these funding formulas, and that can then be multiplied across 10 years.

“The 11 percent growth rate is almost double the growth rate in the prior 10 years and exceeds or is equal to the other major Valley cities,” Mayor Chris Boswell said.

He said the increase was anticipated by city officials due to the number of residential and commercial building permits the city is issuing.

“In 2020, we issued 759 permits with a construction value of $70,745,821,” the mayor said. “Of that, 28.8 percent was for new homes. So far this year as compared to the same time last year, we’re up 10 percent.”

Yet the Census 2020 final numbers are vastly below what city officials claimed only two years ago, when they said statistical data they had in hand showed the city’s true residential population to be 96,000.

Harlingen officials based that on detailed statistics involving an increase in housing units, births and deaths and a mathematical ratio of people-to-households based on AEP Texas’s residential service.

The latter uses a 2.95-percent multiplier which estimates that for every residential household with AEP Texas service, population can be estimated by multiplying the number of residential service contracts by 2.95.

“We were using a multiplier factor based on electric meters, and at the end of the day, the fact is that this is the count with the numbers that have come in,” Serna said of Census 2020.

“But I think there was an undercount, but by the same token, we are very pleased with almost 11 percent growth,” he added.

Census 2020 findings

City 2010       Census 2020        Census Percentage change

Edinburg           77,100           100,243               Up 30.0 percent

Harlingen          64,849             71,829               Up 10.8 percent

McAllen           129,877            142,210              Up 9.5 percent

Brownsville     175,023             186,738              Up 6.7 percent

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