Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – When it comes to the once-per-decade census, New Mexico has long struggled with low participation rates.
But the state had the nation’s most accurate count for the 2020 Census, according to a state-by-state survey released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau that found Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi had the highest undercounts by percentage.
Top state officials said this week that New Mexico’s successful census count would ensure the state receives the full extent of the federal funding it is entitled to.
“New Mexico was at very high risk of an overall undercount,” said Robert Rhatigan, official state demographer and head of the University of New Mexico Geospatial and Population Studies program. “This new data from the Census Bureau is further confirmation that this didn’t happen. Our collective efforts had a positive impact on our state.”
With federal funding at stake, New Mexico spent $10.9 million in the run-up to the 2020 Census on a statewide media campaign and other census preparation efforts. That included a state-level census commission created by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham that worked with immigrant rights groups and tribal representatives to increase participation rates.
State officials have previously said that just a 1% undercount could have meant the loss of $780 million over the next decade.
“The pandemic required significant changes to how we reached and encouraged New Mexico residents to respond to the census,” said state Finance and Administration Secretary Debbie Romero.
The 2020 Census ultimately found New Mexico had a population of 2.075 million residents – an increase of 2.8% from a decade earlier. That population growth rate was lower than the rates of most of New Mexico’s neighboring states, including Texas, Colorado and Arizona.
The once-per-decade census count was also used late last year in redistricting, or the redrawing of New Mexico’s political boundary lines, to reflect population changes.
In 2010, New Mexico had the nation’s second-lowest participation rate as the state’s rural nature, high immigrant population and infrastructure problems – including bumpy roads and limited phone connections – have long made it difficult to get an accurate head count.
New Mexico currently gets roughly $8 billion annually in federal dollars from 16 programs, including money for Medicaid, food stamps, early childhood education and road repairs.
That puts New Mexico third in the list of states that are most reliant on federal funding in terms of a percentage of total state revenue, according to a recent Tax Foundation study that did not include pandemic relief funding received by states.