'Stagnated' growth: New Mexico's rate of increase hits a historic low - Albuquerque Journal

‘Stagnated’ growth: New Mexico’s rate of increase hits a historic low

 N.M. 39 runs through Harding County, one of the least populated counties in the country. New Mexico’s population has grown by just 2.8% since 2010, according to census numbers released Monday. Meanwhile, Texas grew by 15.9%, Colorado by 14.8% and Arizona by 11.9%.

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SANTA FE – For the first time since statehood, New Mexico’s population growth slowed to a trickle in the federal census, dipping to just 2.8% since 2010, according to numbers released Monday.

It was by far the weakest growth the state has ever recorded in the count used to reapportion congressional seats every 10 years.

New Mexico will keep its three representatives in the U.S. House, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but its growth rate trailed that of every other Western state except Wyoming and was less than half the average for the nation as a whole.

The new census numbers are a dramatic reversal for a state used to rocketing growth in each census. New Mexico grew by 13.2% between 2000 and 2010, for example, and by 20.1% in the 1990s.

Monday’s census count puts the state population at 2.1 million residents in 2020, a net increase of just 58,000 people since 2010.

“New Mexico’s population growth has basically stagnated over the past decade,” Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said in an interview. “The little growth we’ve had is due to natural growth – more births than deaths – not the net migration of more people in than out.”

The 2.8% growth over the past 10 years is the smallest rate recorded for New Mexico since statehood in 1912. The next-lowest rate was reflected in the 1970 census, which found growth of just 6.9% for the preceding decade.

Aging population

Analysts for state legislators plan to release their own report later this week examining New Mexico’s population changes over the past 10 years.

The state’s growth was largely concentrated among adults over 65, in urban areas and throughout the Permian Basin, where an oil boom brought workers to southeastern New Mexico, according to analysts for the Legislative Finance Committee.

The under-18 population, by contrast, shrank by 8%, according to the analysis.

“Given the status quo, New Mexico is heading toward having more, older New Mexicans using relatively expensive public services (e.g., Medicaid and Medicare) and fewer, younger New Mexicans in school and working,” the report says.

Detailed data for new congressional and legislative districts isn’t yet available. State lawmakers expect to meet late this year – perhaps in a December special session – to approve new maps.

But the LFC analysts say it’s clear the state population is growing more diverse – with 10% growth in the Native American population, a slight increase in Hispanic residents and a decline in non-Hispanic white residents, according to their report.

Cristina Caltagirone, special projects coordinator with the Rio Arriba County Economic Development Department, stands next to a census sign in Española in September. The census count released Monday puts the state population at 2.1 million in 2020, a net change of just 58,000 additional people since 2010. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Hard state to count

Sanderoff, whose Albuquerque-based firm works on redistricting for public agencies, said New Mexico’s sluggish population growth wasn’t enough to endanger its three congressional seats.

But it’s disconcerting, he said, to see how little the population changed compared with surrounding states.

“People will follow the jobs,” Sanderoff said.

Monday’s census numbers show that Texas grew by 15.9%, Colorado by 14.8% and Arizona by 11.9%.

New Mexico is traditionally among the hardest states to count.

State legislators last year heard testimony that people of color, children, Native Americans and rural residents tend to be undercounted in the census. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature subsequently authorized $8 million in emergency spending for census outreach efforts.

Oriana Sandoval, CEO of the Center for Civic Policy, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Albuquerque, said Monday’s results validate the hard work that went into boosting census participation in New Mexico, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign included telephone calls, text messages and mailers to households throughout the state, she said.

“Today we see the fruit of our hard work by keeping our three congressional seats to represent every family in our nation’s capital,” said Sandoval, a member of the state committee dedicated to a complete count.


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