The study's findings are shedding light on further growing financial stress and affordability struggles throughout the U.S., likely heightened by inflation and cost of living increases. Photo via Getty Images

No one wants to hear that they aren't making enough money to be considered "middle class," but those income ceilings are getting more difficult to maintain year after year across the Houston area. And a new report has revealed The Woodlands has the No. 10 highest income ceiling for American middle class earners in 2024.

According to the 2024 edition of SmartAsset's annual "What It Takes to Be Middle Class in America" report, middle class households in The Woodlands would need to make between $91,548 and $274,670 a year to be labeled "middle class." Additionally, the suburb's median middle class household income comes out to $137,335 a year.

The report used a variation of Pew Research's definition of a middle class household, stating the salary range is "two-thirds to double the median U.S. salary." To determine income limits, the report analyzed data from the Census Bureau's 2022 one-year American Community Survey. New to the 2024 report, SmartAsset widened its analysis of income data from 100 to 345 of the largest American cities.

The Woodlands' middle class income thresholds are egregiously higher than the national average, the study found.

"In a large U.S. city, a middle-class income averages between $52,000 and $155,000," the report says. "The median household income across all 345 cities is $77,345, making middle-class income limits fall between $51,558 and $154,590."

Sugar Land was right behind The Woodlands, ranking No. 13 out of all 345 U.S. cities, with households needing to make between $88,502 and $265,532 a year to maintain their "middle class" status.

In a shocking turn of events, Houston plummeted into No. 254 this year after ranking among the top 100 in SmartAsset's 2023 report. At the time, a Houston household needed to make between $37,184 and $110,998 a year to be considered middle class. But the latest findings from the 2024 report show the necessary salary range to maintain a middle class designation in Houston is now between $40,280 and $120,852 a year.

The study's findings are shedding light on further growing financial stress and affordability struggles throughout the U.S., likely heightened by inflation and cost of living increases.

"As a middle-class American, there is some expectation for living a lifestyle of relative comfort," the report said. "But as costs have increased significantly over the last few years, the middle class is now feeling a squeeze in their finances."

Here’s what it takes to be middle class in other Houston-area cities:

  • No. 34 – Atascocita: between $71,748 and $215,266 a year
  • No. 39 – League City: between $69,904 and $209,734 a year
  • No. 45 – Pearland: between $69,990 and $206,992 a year
  • No. 211 – Conroe: between $43,814 and $131,456 a year
  • No. 273 – Pasadena: between $38,048 and $114,156 a year

Middle class income thresholds within the top 10 U.S. cities
The Woodlands wasn't the only Texas city to earn a spot in the top 10. Frisco, a suburb outside of Dallas, ranked two spots higher to claim No. 8 in the national comparison of U.S. cities with the highest income thresholds to be labeled middle class.

Middle class households in Frisco need to make between $97,266 and $291,828 a year, with the median household income at $145,914, according to the report.

Unsurprisingly, half of the top 10 cities with the highest middle class income ceilings are in California. The report found households in four of the five cities could be bringing in over $300,000 a year in income and still be classified as middle class.

California’s overall high cost-of-living means residents in the No. 1 city of Sunnyvale would need to make between $113,176 and $339,562 a year to be labeled middle class. Sunnyvale overtook Fremont for the top spot in the report in 2024.

The top 10 cities with the highest middle class ceilings are:

  • No. 1 – Sunnyvale, California
  • No. 2 – Fremont, California
  • No. 3 – San Mateo, California
  • No. 4 – Santa Clara, California
  • No. 5 – Bellevue, Washington
  • No. 6 – Highlands Ranch, Colorado
  • No. 7 – Carlsbad, California
  • No. 8 – Frisco, Texas
  • No. 9 – Naperville, Illinois
  • No. 10 – The Woodlands, Texas

The full report and its methodology can be found on smartasset.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The median income in Houston grew more than 20 percent from 2010 to 2019. Photo by DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images

Here's how much Houston's household income grew over past decade

Money matters

Houston's household income jumped in the 2010s, but not as significantly as many other major U.S. metros, a new report shows.

Data compiled by apartment website RentCafé and published December 16 shows median household income inside the city of Houston (not the metro area) jumped 23.9 percent during the decade.

Houston ranks No. 40 for the rise in household income among the country's 50 largest cities. Houston's median household income grew from $42,355 in 2010 to $52,483 in 2019, according to RentCafé. For 2010 income, the website pulled data from the U.S. Census Bureau; it estimated 2019 household income based on a predicted 2.5 percent increase in the U.S. Consumer Price Index.

By comparison, the U.S. median household income stood at $63,179 in 2018, according to the Census Bureau, and Texas median household income checked in at $60,629.

"We're better off by almost all measures than we were 10 years ago," Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist for Northern Trust, told the Wall Street Journal in September. "But there are still some … flags that show that economic security remains more elusive for some families."

Only one Texas city ranked among the country's top 10. Austin, No. 8, saw a 54.6 percent hike during the decade, from $47,434 in 2010 to $73,332 in 2019.

As ranked by RentCafé, the top 10 cities for growth in median household income from 2010 to 2019 are:

  1. Atlanta, 60.9 percent
  2. San Francisco, 60.5 percent
  3. Oakland, California, 59.3 percent
  4. Seattle, 59.1 percent
  5. Portland, Oregon, 58.8 percent
  6. Miami, 57.1 percent
  7. Denver, 55.5 percent
  8. Austin, 54.6 percent
  9. San Jose, California, 50.9 percent
  10. Brooklyn, New York, 48.9 percent

Well down the ladder is Dallas, at No. 27. From 2010 to 2019, the city's median household income surged 31.6 percent — from $40,650 to $53,515.

At No. 38 is Fort Worth, where median household income increased 24.2 percent during the 10-year span — from $48,224 to $59,909.

San Antonio hovers close to the bottom of the 50-city list. Alamo City ranked 46th, with a 14.8 percent gain over the 10-year period. Median household income went from $43,758 to $50,250.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston university teams up with angel group to reach, upskill future investors

Through a new partnership with the Houston Angel Network and Houston Exponential, the University of Houston will help cultivate startup investors among UH alumni.

The partnership will bolster accredited early-stage investors and accelerate opportunities for aspiring startup investors, the university says in a news release.

“Investors play a vital role in the startup ecosystem and this initiative gives our alumni a rapid path to becoming angels. Our vision is to activate more investors with deep connections to UH who support world-class innovation in our community and beyond,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the university’s vice president for energy and innovation.

The partnership is based at UH’s Technology Bridge. Tech Bridge promotes tech commercialization, industrial partnerships, and startup development.

“Our founders are launching many exciting new companies, but they need better access to capital,” says Tanu Chatterji, associate director of startup development at UH. “This partnership will help us mobilize angel investors who want to support these innovators with knowledge and financial resources.”

UH alumni interested in participating in the new partnership should contact Chatterji at tchatte@uh.edu.

The angel network will lend its investing expertise to early-stage businesses in tech, energy, life sciences, consumer, and aerospace sectors. Meanwhile, tech startup incubator Houston Exponential will provide support for entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem.

“This relationship is a testament to the collaborative spirit of Greater Houston’s business and academic communities,” says Mitra Miller, vice president of the Houston Angel Network, an organization for early-stage investors. “By leveraging the combined expertise and resources of our three organizations, we can increase the flow of early-stage capital in our region in support of great innovators and high-growth enterprises.”

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the new initiative “promises to be a roadmap for investment education, and support for aspiring investors and entrepreneurs alike.”

“An active and educated investor base is an essential component of a thriving startup ecosystem,” says Branch.

Houston lab sees progress with breakthrough light-harvesting processes

Hi, tech

A groundbreaking Rice University lab has made further strides in its work to make harvesting light energy more efficient and stable.

Presented on the cover of a June issue of Science, a study from Rice engineer Aditya Mohite's lab uncovered a method to synthesize a high-efficiency perovskite solar cell, known as formamidinium lead iodide (FAPbI3), converting them into ultrastable high-quality photovoltaic films, according to a statement from Rice. Photovoltaic films convert sunlight into electricity.

The new process makes solar cells that are about 10 times more durable than traditional methods.

“Right now, we think that this is state of the art in terms of stability,” Mohite said in a statement. “Perovskite solar cells have the potential to revolutionize energy production, but achieving long-duration stability has been a significant challenge.”

The change come from "seasoning" the FAPbI3 with 2D halide perovskites crystals, which the Mohite lab also developed a breakthrough synthesis process for last year

The 2D perovskites helped make the FAPbI3 films more stable. The study showed that films with 2D perovskites deteriorated after two days of generating electricity, while those with 2D perovskites had not started to degrade after 20 days.

“FAPbI3 films templated with 2D crystals were higher quality, showing less internal disorder and exhibiting a stronger response to illumination, which translated as higher efficiency," Isaac Metcalf, a Rice materials science and nanoengineering graduate student and a lead author on the study, said in the statement.

Additionally, researchers say their findings could make developing light-harvesting technologies cheaper, and can also allow light-harvesting panels to be lighter weight and more flexible.

"Perovskites are soluble in solution, so you can take an ink of a perovskite precursor and spread it across a piece of glass, then heat it up and you have the absorber layer for a solar cell,” Metcalf said. “Since you don’t need very high temperatures ⎯ perovskite films can be processed at temperatures below 150 Celsius (302 Fahrenheit) ⎯ in theory that also means perovskite solar panels can be made on plastic or even flexible substrates, which could further reduce costs.”

Mohite adds this has major implications for the energy transition at large.

“If solar electricity doesn’t happen, none of the other processes that rely on green electrons from the grid, such as thermochemical or electrochemical processes for chemical manufacturing, will happen,” Mohite said. “Photovoltaics are absolutely critical.”

The Mohite lab's process for creating 2D perovskites of the ideal thickness and purity was published in Nature Synthesis last fall. At the time, Mohite said the crystals "hold the key to achieving commercially relevant stability for solar cells."

About a year ago, the lab also published its work on developing a scalable photoelectrochemical cell. The research broke records for its solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency rate.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with a health tech data scientist, a CEO celebrating an international expansion, and a founder who won a big DOE prize.

Angela Wilkins, chief data scientist at Starling Medical

Angela Wilkins joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the intersection of data and health care. Photo courtesy

When most people hear about Houston startup Starling Medical, they might think about how much potential the medical device company has in the field of urinalysis diagnostics. But that's not quite where Angela Wilkins's head went.

Wilkins explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that when she met the company's co-founders, Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks, she recognized them as very promising startup leaders taking action on a real health care problem. Starling's device can collect urine and run diagnostics right from a patient's toilet.

"It was one of those things where I just thought, 'They're going to get a bunch of data soon,'" Wilkins says. "The opportunity is just there, and I was really excited to come on and build their AI platform and the way they are going to look at data."

For about a year, Wilkins supported the startup as an adviser. Now, she's working more hands on as chief data officer as the company grows. Read more.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon officially expanded in Europe. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based, AI-powered electricity forecasting and analytics services company Amperon Holdings is live in Europe. The expansion, which Co-Founder and CEO Sean Kelly previously told InnovationMap about, is official, the company announced this month. In addition to the expansion, Amperon announced Jon Ecker as general manager, Europe, and Kelsey Hultberg as executive vice president, communications, and chief of staff.

Now, European companies that buy and sell energy in the renewable energy producers, financial institutions, and utilities markets can leverage Amperon's platform of AI and machine learning technologies to access short- and long-term forecasts for their individual meters and generation assets.

“As a warmer-than-expected June ushers in a hot summer, and increasing uncertainty looms for the calmer fall months due to the influx of wind and solar generation, we are eager to assist our European customers in navigating the power market volatility caused by heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in power usage across the region,” Kelly says in a news release. Read more.

Laureen Meroueh, founder of Hertha Metals

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. Photo via LinkedIn

Four startups from across the country won over $160,000 in cash prizes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions earlier this month, and a Houston-area company claimed the top prize.

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. The program honors and supports clean energy innovators nominated by clean technology business incubators.

Hertha Metals was founded by Laureen Meroueh, a mechanical engineer and materials scientist, in 2022. Read more.