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Demographer’s biggest concern is loss of NM’s kids

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

A question often asked around here is: “How do we keep our 20-somethings from leaving New Mexico?”

But, in fact, more 25- to 29-year-olds are coming to the Land of Enchantment than leaving.

The population trend that most concerns University of New Mexico research scientist Robert Rhatigan is the loss of New Mexicans 30 to 59 years old, who are leaving the state in greater numbers than any other age groups. And they are taking their kids with them.

“The real story, in my opinion, is the loss of children because they are not likely to return,” Rhatigan, associate director of the University of New Mexico Geospatial and Population Studies department, said in an email. “Without something to drive in-migration in the next 10-20 years, NM will have a shortage of working age, tax-paying people to support our aging population.”

A new analysis of state migration since 2010 shows the number of people who are leaving the state, broken into five-year age groups. The figures do not show where New Mexico residents are headed once they leave the state.

Most of the groups below the age of 60 are seeing more people leaving than staying. Conversely, all age groups over 60 have “positive net migration,” meaning more are moving in to New Mexico than out.

The exception among the younger groups are those who are 25 to 29 years old, a category that has had an increase of 1,080 people since 2010.

Rhatigan said that is due “mostly to the fact that higher education and the military keep these folks coming in as well as out.”

He said cost of living is likely a factor as well.

“If you’re working in the service industry, as many in this age group are, it’s much more affordable to live here than Denver,” he said.

The biggest loss recorded is among those who are 50 to 54 years old, showing a decrease of 6,587 people, according to Rhatigan’s figures.

Showing the biggest in-migration are those in the 65- to 69-year group, with an increase of 4,675.

He said further research is needed to explain the increase among older residents, but he speculated that reasons could include people leaving for retirement destinations such as Santa Fe, Taos and Sierra and Grant counties, as well as Native Americans returning to their homes.

A shortage of working age residents is worrisome, he said, because he and local economists with whom he has spoken “are not optimistic about when, if ever, that driver of in-migration will arrive.”

“The new Facebook data center in Los Lunas, for example, is a step in the right direction, but we need something like that happening every month for several years for it to impact interstate migration,” he said.

Facebook, which this week announced construction of a second $250 million building at its new Los Lunas data center, has been employing hundreds of construction workers as the project is going up. That figure could hit 1,000 at peak construction, the company said. Once the buildings are open, though, possible employment is projected at around 100 people.

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