A first-ever demographic survey of New Mexico’s Jewish population found that the community is larger, older and more widely dispersed than previously believed, Jewish leaders who commissioned the study said Thursday.
The study estimated that about 24,000 Jews live in New Mexico, more than two-thirds of whom are aged 55 or older. Earlier estimates had put the state’s Jewish population at about 12,000.
Only a small portion of New Mexico Jews were born here. Fully 87 percent of the nearly 1,700 surveyed moved here from out-of-state – nearly one in five from New York, the report found.
“The community here is an elderly community and an aging population,” said Benjamin Kupersmit, a Denver-based demographer who performed the survey.
The survey results were released just two days after leaders of the Jewish Academy of Arts & Sciences announced that the Albuquerque kindergarten through fifth grade school would close at the end of this school year due to declining enrollment. It has 31 students compared to an all-time high of 69 five years ago.
“Our children are beloved, but there are very few of them,” said Sara Koplik, director of community outreach for the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, which commissioned the survey.
New Mexico Jews also are less likely to have children living at home than those in other states.
About a quarter of the state’s Jewish adults reported having children under 18 living in their households, compared with 33 percent nationally.
An influx of out-of-state Jews appears to offset a low number of births, Koplik said.
“We have few children, but we seem to have a stream of older people coming in,” she said.
New Mexico’s Jewish population is highly educated, with 58 percent reporting a graduate or professional degree, and an additional 28 percent with a four-year university degree, the survey shows.
A majority of those surveyed – 56 percent – reported that someone in their household is a member of one of the state’s 22 synagogues, and a third say they attended religious services other than special occasions.
While three-quarters of the state’s Jews live in Bernalillo or Santa Fe counties, at least one family was surveyed in 28 of the state’s 33 counties.
“We’re going to be giving more attention to reaching small communities across the state,” possibly with the help of itinerant rabbis, said Marvin Gottlieb, the Jewish Federation’s vice president for strategic planning.
“Certainly we are going to be focusing more attention on issues of aging,” he said.