New Mexicans less educated, work less

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By Harold Morgan

The interim Economic and Rural Development Committee held its July meeting in Santa Rosa.
My concern here is the presentation by two esteemed observer-analysts of New Mexico, Adelamar Alcantara, who directs Geospatial and Population Studies at the University of New Mexico, and Jim Peach, economics professor at New Mexico State University.
We couldn’t find the meeting. Alcantara and Peach provided their presentation materials.
New Mexico’s population, as reported in the 2010 census, was Alcantara’s topic. Peach followed with a discussion of demographic trends and labor markets. Trust me, this stuff really is more interesting than watching paint dry.
One starting piece of news is that New Mexico’s percentage population growth fell behind the nation for the first time since the 1960s and only the second time since the 1910s. Fourteen counties lost population during the 2000s with eight losing people since 1930. Seven of those eight are in the northeast with Luna County the stray.
At 17 percent, Hidalgo led the population losers between 2000 and 2010. Overall, 63 percent of the 10-year population growth came from “natural increase,” more people being born than died.
In New Mexico, 62 percent of people 16 and older and not in an institution (jail or otherwise) “participate” in the labor force. The national rate is 65.4 percent.
The more education, the more likely a person works. New Mexico beats the national level in people with less than a ninth grade education, with no high school diploma and with a graduate or professional degree. For all other education levels, we’re behind.
A pattern appears. We are less educated than the nation, an ugly accomplishment. We work less.
Peach quotes the Bureau of Labor Statistics regarding the national job outlook: “Occupations that usually require a post-secondary degree or award are expected to account for nearly half of all new jobs from 2008 to 2018 and one-third of total job openings.”
That means a lot of New Mexicans aren’t in the job game. New Mexico was the 15th fastest growing state in the nation during the 2000s, which sounds nice until you notice that eight western states and Texas grew faster than New Mexico. Two neighbors, Arizona and Utah, were in the top three. Colorado was ninth. Clearly, when thinking about moving, people see more opportunity around New Mexico, rather than in New Mexico.
Alcantara put the light on what I have called the “sash of decline” from northeast to southwest. First, remember that we are urban; two-thirds of us live in the metro areas of Farmington, Las Cruces, Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Around 1960 urban areas first claimed more than half the population. Three urban counties led the population growth with a ten-year increase of 50 percent or more. Those leading the growth of the older with a 50 percent or more increase in people 65 and up were Taos, Los Alamos, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Catron.
With exceptions and variation, the declining counties are older and more Anglo. The leaders in 65-and-over population are Sierra County (30.6 percent), Harding (29.2) and Catron (27.9). The youngest counties are in the northwest and southeast, plus Doña Ana.
Hispanics accounted for 78 percent of the past decade’s population growth with 188,017 new folks. The counties with the greatest percentage of Hispanics are Rio Arriba, Mora, San Miguel and Guadalupe.
Mobility, both in the geographic and occupational senses, Peach notes, is an essential element of economic efficiency and productivity. Mobility, the means of finding a better life, draws fewer people to our state and more from southeast and southwest New Mexico. This is a big problem with no immediate solution.

Harold Morgan
© New Mexico News Services 2011