Influential state lawmakers on Thursday got a look into New Mexico’s future — one that paints the picture of a state that will get older and more diverse but likely will continue to struggle economically.

Though neighboring states’ population rates are growing faster than the national average, New Mexico’s demographics continue to dawdle — its population grew by a scant 2.8 percent in the past 10 years. And much of that growth, an expert told the Legislative Finance Committee, was due to a 38 percent increase in people age 65 or older.

That age group is likely to expand in the coming years, while the number of younger people likely will shrink, according to a new Legislative Finance Committee report.

“Overall the state’s population is aging into retirement while fewer children are being born,” Mitch Latimer, a program evaluator for the committee, told lawmakers Thursday.

Among other reasons for the stagnating population rate is the state’s birth rate, which dropped 19 percent between 2010 and 2019, he said.

Fewer children means fewer students in the state’s public education system, which in turn means fewer college students down the line, Latimer said.

Such population shifts may require New Mexico lawmakers to rethink how they appropriate state funding, particularly on big-ticket items such as education, services for the elderly and health care.

“This could be quite troubling for our state,” said Rep. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec. “When you have a decline in population, that has a serious trickle-down effect on our economy and our way of life.”

The report said state lawmakers should prepare to right size the state budget by shifting financial resources from the young to the old. A decrease in public education funding because there are fewer students could help shore up services for an increase in seniors, the report says.

And the state should plan to find ways to train workers in jobs vacated by those aging into retirement or leaving the state, according to the report.

Latimer said there were some encouraging signs in the report, including an increase of 13,000 people in the 18-44 age group between 2000 and 2019. Much of that population growth took part in southeastern New Mexico, and Latimer said that might reflect job opportunities in the Permian Basin’s oil and gas industry.

But any future population growth likely will be centered in the state’s largest urban areas, including Santa Fe, as there are more job opportunities there.

Nearly 60,000 people moved out of New Mexico between 2000 and 2019, according to the report.

The numbers are in stark contrast to figures in neighboring states like Texas, Arizona and Colorado, all of which saw population growth in the 12 percent to 16 percent range in the same time period. Those states benefited from an influx of people who relocated from New Mexico, likely because of better employment and economic opportunities.

Citing Pew Charitable Trusts data, the report says that “the fastest-growing states typically have strong economic and labor force growth, and Texas, Colorado and Arizona outperform New Mexico in a number of economic rankings.”

Those economic factors include salaries. The report says New Mexico’s average household income was $71,000 in 2019 — “well below the national average of $92,000 and the $84,000 of Arizona, the neighboring state with the closest average household income.”

It’s not all about economics. The report cites national studies that rank New Mexico near or at the bottom in areas such as public education, health, safety and social factors, which could hurt the state’s chances of attracting new residents — particularly those with families.

Under current trends, New Mexico’s population growth is expected to peak around the 2.2 million mark within 20 years or so, the report says. It is currently around 2.097 million, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau earlier this week.

The state will grow in ethnic and racial diversity if current trends continue, the state report said. The state’s white population dropped by 10,000, or 0.5 percent, while the Hispanic population grew by 75,000, or 7.8 percent.

Notably, New Mexico’s Native American population grew by 20,000, or 9.7 percent, in that time period, mirroring national trends.

The Legislative Finance Committee report primarily relied on data compiled between 2000 and 2019, and it only briefly touched on the new census data and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s telling us something when our neighboring states are all at the growth of at least 10 percent verses us at 2.8 percent,” Sen. Bobby Gonzales, D-Ranchos de Taos, said of the report.

But neither he nor other members of the committee asked specific questions about why more people are leaving New Mexico for other states or what could be done about it.

General Assignment Reporter

Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican's city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.

(28) comments

zach miller

how about funding to make sure the climate is available to make it possible to even live here?

Stefanie Beninato

Given that NM grew 20 percent in the two decades before the 21st century, maybe we should be happy with a slowing of growth. And as pointed out, it is somewhat deceptive since cities/towns are growing at faster rates than the state average.

Paul Davis

from the democrats: a variety of ideas all of which have some promise, but are not likely to radically change the state NM's education, economy, health, social and safety factors any time soon.

from the republicans: "cut taxes and regulations and big government", despite there not being a single state outside of (maybe, just maybe) Texas that has built a thriving economy on the back of such policies.


Lee DiFiore

"Nearly 60,000 people moved out of New Mexico between 2000 and 2019. The numbers are in stark contrast to figures in neighboring states like Texas, Arizona and Colorado, all of which saw population growth in the 12 percent to 16 percent range in the same time period. Those states benefited from an influx of people who relocated from New Mexico, likely because of better employment and economic opportunities." Yep, keep voting for democrats.

Kenneth Chaney

You have nothing but high prices and cost of living to offer. Old and weak technology. What do you think everybody wants to hike?

Nicholas Lerek

Grammar check: demographics may dwindle or diminish, for example, but they can't "dawdle".

Scott Smart

and add to this the dire state of fresh water supplies in NM which will only get worse

Jason Yurtail

I run my Denver based business from NM. I love the population as it is - few, diverse and interesting. Having tried to grow our business in NM, we too found a number of constraints. The workforce is strange: it is a mix of poorly educated and trained people and outsiders who have arrived in NM with good qualifications either working for the labs, or seeking a change and aren't particularly motivated. Infrastructure is absolutely terrible - broadband, cell coverage, roads, water, sewer, time-consuming government services and regulation. GRT is also a problem, but NM faces an absolute dilemma in changing basis of taxation - you can't tax real estate much higher without killing heritage life styles, there is very little wealth to tax and the royalty rate on oil will eventually run out. I don't envy any NM governor and their economic development office. This is a hard problem to create a better economic environment and at least slow down outward migration of the best young people from the state.

Paul Davis

Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

zach miller

we sit on a ton of other energy resources, Sun, Wind, Geothermal, Nuclear; we just can't be asked to actually follow through with setting up those economies because continuing gas subsidies is easier.

Earl James

Sun, Water, Wind. NM has mega amounts of two, and very little of the other. A long-term economic resilience plan can be constructed out of these resource realities that does not depend upon the outdated and unsustainable habit of encouraging population growth! And, it can be done equitably by measures such as fe community solar act just signed into law and legislatively encouraging small (sustainable) business startups.

Allen Olson

In this overpopulated world facing a climate crisis, we should be cheering this report. Soaring population growth is not the remedy. In the long term it brings more costs than benefits. The benefits are gained by a relative few and the costs spread over the entire citizenry. Natural resources become increasingly strained. Remember, new residents bring no water with them. We should focus instead on quality and work to improve what we have with the people already here.. This will require hard work and belt tightening but is essential. Stability, resilience and sustainability must become the new paradigms. We will all be better off down the road.

Nicholas Lerek

Ahhh... an oasis in the arid desert of the comments section. Thank you.

Richard Reinders

If you look at the growth in SF and Abq it is much higher than the 2.8% so water and resources are a problem ea. part of the state gets their water from different sources. For example the population shift of young people leaving our rural areas could be 10% and transplants populating 2 or 3 primary locations like SF Abq and LC could be 12.8% this is the information I would like to see in the article

Barry Rabkin

New Mexico generally and Santa Fe specifically are a long, long, long way from being over-populated. We need more people and more higher-paid jobs for the foreseeable future. Stagnant population being over-taxed, and they will be because costs of everything always increase, will turn NM into a wasteland.

Gretchen Baltuff

Barry, New Mexico and Santa Fe have been in a drought for so many years, I don't think the water supply can provide enough for too many more people. That's just reality.

Margaret Eyler

Aaaaand this line of thought is what’s wrong with your state. There is no substance to your comment. All fluff and utopian thinking.

Rob Morlino

Other commenters are right that GRT is the principal issue and I plan to advocate for a bill in the next session that would change that in a small way. The state needs to find a way to more progressively tax property, capital gains, and corporations and stop letting poor and working people disproportionately fund the state. When I started my career in New Mexico in my 20s, I worked as a contractor nonprofits. I was not making great money but barely getting by, diligently paying my income tax to state and federal governments. Years later, I received a notice from the state saying I owed GRT on that income as well, which I wouldn’t have owed if I was a full-time employee with benefits. That notice also wanted me to pay fees for the interest on the 5 YEARS it took the state to catch up with its work. That meant I was paying way more in personal taxes than any business in the state, or an executive making six figures. I nearly left the New Mexico at that point, feeling like I was being incentivized to do so. That practice is immoral and needs to change. The idea for a bill I plan to put forth in the next legislative session would eliminate GRT for contractors and gig workers trying to get on their feet in New Mexico. Currently, we’re cutting them off at the knees. I hope any elected official reading this will support the measure and reach out if they need more information.

As an aside, I sat in on some Tax and Rev meetings last session to advocate for a progressive and relatively modest change to property taxes. One Republican in that hearing rejected the property tax idea, citing financial hardship of New Mexicans during the pandemic, but in the next breath pitched a new food tax. Yes, you did read that right...

Stefanie Beninato

GRT are paid by residents and visitors alike. Yes, as an independent contractor you also pay GRT on the services you provide. Generally people add the GRT onto the cost of the service--not absorbing it as a cost of doing business. Property taxes and food taxes for low and moderate income people would definitely have a negative effect on people's ability to live and thrive here. I understand that many industries have exceptions to GRT; Senator Wirth has introduced a bill on several occasions to lower the GRT and get rid of exceptions so that all industries ( I would urge no GRT on medical/health care services) contribute to that source of income for the state.

Emily Koyama

GRT hurts competitiveness.

Retirees would bring a lot of dollars and jobs to the State, but they are staying away in droves because income AND social security are taxed by the State...on top of sales tax. From a tax perspective, New Mexico sucks. And the Gov wants to make it worse...

In fact, New Mexico is ranked as the worst State to retire in.

Rob Morlino

Whatever the category of taxes is kind of irrelevant. A 40% tax rate on a 20-something making $30k a year is exploitative and is basically incentivizing people to underreport their income or just get out of the state as soon as possible.

Charles W Rodriguez

I really must LOL over this fact. Perhaps, NM residents can count their blessings that the state isn't being overrun by upwardly mobile people, all in a hurry to make a million. On the other hand, state legislators need to get their head out of the sand, to put it politely. The Gross Receipt Tax is a repressive, anti-business tax that discourages business from establishing here. Our young people all leave the state in search of a way to make a passable living in a career with possibility; that doesn't include the hospitality or health care industries.

This state needs to face up to some serious realities about their policies that discourage business from coming here. That is, of course, unless they're content to discourage newcomers and encourage dirty industry, like fossil fuel extraction.

Paul Davis

The GRT has very little impact on businesses that do generate most of their revenue out of state.

I moved my (small) business to NM, and I pay almost no GRT because hardly anyone in NM pays for my software. As it happens, this was similar to one of Bezos' rationales for starting amzn in WA: "small population" state, hardly anyone lives there, so local sales taxes are not very important.

Everywhere I've lived, people have complained about "sales taxes", "VAT', "GRT" and similar things. Somehow, however, they all have businesses that are thriving, failing, and mostly in-between. I find it hard to believe that the GRT is particularly to blame for the business environment in NM.

Richard Reinders

I was in business here in NM and I can say first hand this state is not business friendly we ran into more roadblocks than people helping within the state , and with out businesses you will not retain the younger people. The second thing is lack of broadband internet new industry requires bandwidth . The governor should spend time trying to streamline regulation and less time trying to chase off the young people in the Permian Basin where we have had the most growth in young people. Education should go to a voucher system which will allow the private sector to take over education in this state, as the state has done a terrible job with it. As they say the numbers don't lie.

Paul Davis

Lack of broadband is a serious issue if you think that new business is likely to start in areas that currently don't have it. But the major population centers in NM are all reasonably well-served by broadband in comparison to anywhere else in the country, and the rate (per MB/sec) is on the lower side of national pricing.

For many different reasons, NM does need more widely distributed broadband access, but I don't think this will have much impact on business in any direct way. My own livelihood is utterly dependent on reasonable broadband, and Century Link in Galisteo have been more than adequate.

Richard Reinders

Have you looked at broadband to the north of Santa Fe it is almost non existent in Espanola, Santa Fe real estate is too expensive for anyone of any size to look at, and Abq crime is a big deterrent to getting staff to move to Abq to run a large operation.

Paul Davis

ABQ crime is not worse than Phila, and just like Phila, huge chunks of the population are not affected by it. If you're in particular demographics, ABQ is not a particularly safe place to be, but its far from the whole population or city. People love to tell stories about the murder rate in Phila., but I can assure you that as a middle class white male, I was no more at risk there than I would be in ... oh, I don't know, shall we agree on, say, Madison, WI ? The "crime situation" in Phila. hasn't stoped big pharma's expansion there, and there's quite an uptick in smaller business startups and relocations there too.

So sure, while NM may indeed have problems with its business environment, I don't think that crime in ABQ has a lot to do with it. The biggest problem, really, is that we're a tiny population in the 5th largest state by area. The population of the entire state is less than half that of metro Phila, spread out across an area hundreds of times the size. This has lots of lifestyle benefits, but it's bad for business in general. 2 million people ... you can make a city run pretty smoothly with that population, but not a state with this much area.

zach miller

it ain't worker friendly either. Large section of work is only minimum wage, which isn't a livable wage, and every single solitary job I ever worked, from goodwill, to NMSU, to High Desert Brewery, the management expected you to work a certain set of hours, while claiming on your time sheet another set of hours.

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