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Recognizing Texas Counties are as Unique as Texas

It may not surprise many Texans that, based on our unique history and culture, Texas has forged its own path in terms of governing.

Our state’s borders cover more than 268,000 square miles, putting us in second place by size to Alaska. Our 29 million people place us in second place for population size, behind California.

However, when it comes to local government, as reported by the Texas Tribune a couple of years ago, we took a different approach, establishing 254 counties – more than any other state:

Basically, Texas is big, and the state’s founders wanted to keep its local governments small. In the state’s early days — Texas became a state in 1845 — Texans needed to be close to those local governments, which were responsible for courts, jails, schools and roads, said lawyer David Brooks, who specializes in Texas county government.

Brooks said counties needed to be small enough that residents could travel on horseback to and from their courthouse in a day. Most farmers couldn’t afford to take more than one day off to travel to the county seat.

As the state expanded throughout the years and the population increased, the number of counties did, too. 

Today, our counties vary in shape, geographic size, population size, economies, resources and climate. For instance, Loving County has a population of 134. The population of Harris County is 4.65 million.

Four elected commissioners (one from each of four precincts drawn based on population) and a county judge elected from all the voters of the county make up the governing body of the commissioners’ court. Counties play a role in providing public safety and justice, holding elections, maintaining roads, emergency management, health, collecting property taxes and more.

Because of this great diversity, state data doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of how Texans are doing on education, workforce, health or broadband access.

That’s one of the many reasons Texas 2036 has focused on accessing and building out data platforms that showcase county-level data, including two of our most popular data projects.

Data Lab

First, Our Data Lab offers Texans unique and timely data visualization tools for the state and county. These data sets include a wide range of topics, such as education & workforce, health & human services, infrastructure, demographics, natural resources, justice & safety, government performance and the economy.  Over the last year, we’ve expanded the offerings of our Data Lab and now provide roughly 400 datasets that speak to a litany of Texas issues. We have focused on providing data that cannot be found elsewhere. 

As regional and municipal organizations consider navigating their way out of a global pandemic and planning for the future, many are looking to the Data Lab to store their data and power their own research. We will continue to add publicly available datasets that align with these needs, as well as those that support our legislative agenda.

We encourage you to explore the data yourself by visiting https://datalab.texas2036.org. To help see what resources are available, watch this short video.

COVID-19 Dashboard

Second, our COVID-19 dashboard, provides a comprehensive set of state and county data that includes coronavirus cases, hospital capacity, employment data and mobility data.

More than 40,000 Texans have used the site — from the Governor’s office to members of the public — to track the pandemic’s impact on Texas. 

Additionally, Texas 2036 has organized most of the data underneath the dashboard for public research and benefit. Most notable among those who have utilized our COVID-19 data are researchers at the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

They used our hospital capacity data to build a sophisticated model that estimates COVID-19 transmission rates and hospital capacity needs. Their model directly supports state leaders as they consider critical emergency management decisions, plan for healthcare needs, and manage the impact of COVID-19 across Texas.

Providing and sharing county-level data will continue to be a priority for Texas 2036. After all, in a state as diverse as ours, it helps to know what the numbers say about each county — all 254 of them.

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