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 Woodlands is booming. Photo by Derrick Bryant Photography

Booming Houston suburb hauls in top spot among growing U.S. cities

making moves

The Houston metro area's population is poised to continue booming over the next decade, so it should be no surprise that U-Haul calculated one Houston suburb as one of the top U.S. cities for growth.

In its annual report, released January 7, the company details migration trends across the U.S. Analyzing data from 2019, the moving and rental company placed Spring-The Woodlands at No. 14 among the 2019 U-Haul Growth Cities.

To determine the country's top 25 growth cities, U-Haul analyzed more than 2 million rental transactions over the calendar year. It then calculated the net gain of one-way U-Haul trucks entering an area versus those leaving an area.

Unlike U.S. Census Bureau or real estate data, the company says its U-Haul Growth Cities offers a snapshot of an area's retention rates versus strictly growth.

"While U-Haul migration trends do not correlate directly to population or economic growth, the company's growth data is an effective gauge of how well cities and states are attracting and maintaining residents," it explains in a release.

Three other Texas cities were perched on the list: the Austin suburb of Round Rock-Pflugerville (No. 5), the San Antonio suburb of New Braunfels (No. 11), and the Dallas suburb of McKinney (No. 17).

The top spot this year went to Raleigh-Durham, where arrivals accounted for nearly 51.4 percent of all one-way U-Haul traffic. In its explanation as to why the North Carolina hub is growing, the company points to the region's booming tech sector, which is says rivals that of Austin.

"We have tons of businesses coming here, bringing new residents in U-Haul trucks," said Kris Smith, U-Haul Company of Raleigh president, in a release. "Raleigh-Durham is rivaling Austin for attracting tech businesses and young professionals. We're seeing Silicon Valley talent and companies flock to the area. With a competitive cost of living, good wages, and job growth, Raleigh-Durham is experiencing a boom in population."

But when it came to the top growth state, neither Texas nor North Carolina got the No. 1 spot. That honor went to Florida, which took the crown from Texas, the winner in 2018. The Sunshine State claimed seven cities among the top 25, including five in the top 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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 the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.