State population gains a little but people are still leaving

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By Harold Morgan

The grey of population loss travels the East Side from Lea County to Colfax and the West from San Juan County to Hidalgo. In between is a light thread of slight population gain along the Rio Grande. 

Overall, New Mexico’s population grew by 2,638 for the 2016-2017 year. The 1.1 percent increase brought us to 2,088,070 New Mexicans, a gain of 23,463 since 2010, the year of the last census. Bernalillo (+14,241) and Sandoval (+10,929) counties, two of metro Albuquerque’s four counties, more than accounted for the state’s seven-year population gain with 25,166 more people. 

Doña Ana County (+6,357) and Santa Fe (+4,533) together added fewer people than did Sandoval County. Together these four counties grew by 36,056 over seven years. The 26 rural counties plus metro Farmington (San Juan County) together lost 59,519 people. That’s like eliminating Eddy County (56,997) population and making up most of the rest by dumping DeBaca County (1,829).

New Mexico, already fairly empty outside the north central urban corridor, is getting even emptier. 

Lest we get excited by the 2016-17 population gain, remember that the performance was a smaller increase than the 3,168 population growth between 2015 and 2016. The state lost population during the two previous years, a total of 2,897. 

What’s happening is the same story of past years; people are leaving, a one-year net of 7,437 to other states. They tend to be younger adults with families, seeking a decent job and a decent education for the kids. Both are in short supply most places in the state.

Coming to or going from a place is called migration. Domestic migration involves just the United States. International migration means, perhaps obviously, that another country is included. A place may have negative migration (more people leaving than coming), as is the case for New Mexico, and show increased population. Babies make the difference.

Just four counties show positive domestic migration for both 2017 and for the seven years from 2010 to 2017. Sandoval and Santa Fe are two. Both are attractive, though for quite different reasons. The other two are Harding with its very small population (move to Harding County, population 692, in 2017?) and Sierra, population 11,116 in 2017. Babies, too few of them, are Sierra’s problem. Sierra leads the state by a big margin in having more deaths than there are babies produced in the county. (Maybe the incipient new moms drive to Las Cruces.)

For seven counties the 2017 migration shows a possibly remarkable change. The seven are Catron, Colfax, Doña Ana, Guadalupe, Lincoln, Los Alamos and Torrance. They scatter from west (Catron) to east (Union) but mostly are in the central area.

The change is positive domestic migration in 2017 even though the total is negative for the seven year 2010 to 2017 period. 

Statisticians always remind us that one item doesn’t make a trend. The numbers are small for some and will be revised. Still this is interesting because the change in the numbers is the sum of decisions by individuals and families. 

The counties are quite different in population (Catron, population 3,587), (Doña Ana, 215,579), geography (mountains to plains), and economics (cattle growing to tourism and Los Alamos National Laboratory). 

Our population growth during the 2016-2017 year came because of the 25,209 babies. A bunch of these babies will become part of the handwringing about child poverty. A functioning statewide economy would help.

Wait until next year, the Chicago Cubs used to say.