From 1960 to 1970 Wharton County’s population declined to 36,729, but between 1970 and 1982 it grew by more than 4,000, chiefly in the urban area. In this period 22 percent of the population was Hispanic, 18 percent German, and 17 percent black. By 1972 mineral income in Wharton County reached $53 million dollars, and the average annual farm income was $40.4 million. The county was the leading Texas rice producer and third among Texas counties in beef cattle; in 1970, 87,059 cattle roamed on 89,000 acres of county rangeland. In the 1980s, 94 percent of the land was in farms and ranches, and 64 percent of farmland was under cultivation. County-wide ranching continued, and the county was second in the state in sorghum production. Farmers also produced significant amounts of rice, soybeans, corn, rye, cotton, milo, hay, watermelons, peaches, and pecans; this production record continued in the 1990s. Scientifically managed farms and ranches replaced the county’s earlier plantation system. Wharton County ranked eighth in Texas in total agricultural receipts. Business establishments were chiefly related to agribusiness and oil and gas extraction, but included manufacturers of clothing, wood furniture, plastic, aluminum, and toy kites and sports pom-poms and a tire vulcanizing plant.
With the urban sprawl of Houston into surrounding counties, the agricultural quality of life was being threatened in Wharton County by the early 1990s. The county had maintained its status in the state with rice, cotton, and cattle production, but many farmers had to declare bankruptcy during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Two Amish groups moved to Wharton County, one settling west of the Colorado near El Campo and the other east of the Colorado between Boling and Lane City. The rail line from Eagle to Wharton was removed, and the rail line from Rosenberg to Victoria was discontinued. The only rail line in the county with daily use was the line from Rosenberg to Eagle Lake, which was the first rail line to be built in the county. In the early twenty-first century, this route was being operated by the Union Pacific Railroad.
In 2014 the U.S. Census counted 41,168 people living in Wharton County; about 46.2 percent were Anglo, 39 percent Hispanic, and 14.4 percent African American. Of residents twenty-five and older, 70 percent had graduated from high school and 14 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century oil and gas production, agriculture, various manufacturing concerns, and Sheppard Air Force Base were important elements of the local economy. In 2002 the county had 1,538 farms and ranches covering 637 acres, 67 percent of which were devoted to crops and 29 percent to pasture. That year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $146,370,000; crop sales accounted for $99,268,000 of the total. Rice, cotton, milo, corn, sorghum, and soybeans were the chief agricultural products. More than 2,055,000 barrels of oil, and 55,224,344 thousand cubic feet of gas well gas, were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 342,766,363 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1925.
Wharton (population, 8,664) is the county’s seat of government, and El Campo (11,515) its largest town. Other communities include Boling-Iago (1,131), East Bernard (2,318), Louise (1,011), and Hungerford (335). Wharton hosts Shanghai Days Cowboy Gathering in spring, and El Campo holds a Polka Expo in November. Wharton County is only thirty five miles from the Gulf of Mexico and minutes away from Houston, making it a prime location for agriculture or industry and as a residential location for those working outside Wharton County.