The U.S. Census Bureau recently released what can only be described as disturbing data regarding the future of New Mexico. Notably, while the Land of Enchantment’s population grew by just 2.8 percent over the past decade, each of our neighbors saw double-digit population growth, with the exception of Oklahoma, which still bested New Mexico with 5.5 percent growth.
That by itself should be a wake-up call for New Mexico’s Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, but a report put out by New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee fleshes out some of New Mexico’s impending demographic challenges and should further guide efforts to change course and make our state a destination for jobs and economic growth, not a failing state that is hemorrhaging young people.
The initial census data made headlines due to New Mexico having the slowest population growth in the state’s history, but there is much more interesting (and troubling) data found in the Legislative Finance Committee report, “State Population Trends,” that was put out using the data. A few highlights from the LFC report:
While New Mexico’s population growth has slowed to a crawl its more economically diversified neighbors saw double-digit population growth over the past decade.
More troubling for New Mexico is the fact that the only age group experiencing significant growth is the oldest demographic, 65-plus. The number of New Mexicans 24 and younger declined dramatically over the last decade.
Worst of all is this direct quote from the report: “While neighboring states continue to gain population through migration from other states, New Mexico had negative net migration of working-age people every year since 2012, likely due to New Mexico’s relatively weak economy and poor rankings in education, health, and safety.”
New Mexico’s slow growth situation is unique. It is in the most favorable region of the nation for population growth. This has clearly helped the state attract retirees who have flexibility in their living situations with a premium on pleasant weather, but it has not helped New Mexico hold on to young people or made the state an attractive destination for young people from other states.
According to the LFC, this dearth of young people in New Mexico is likely to lead to the state’s overall population dropping by the end of this decade. This trend means fewer workers, less tax revenue, and higher costs imposed on various government programs as the elderly population increases.
It doesn’t have to be this way. While plummeting birthrates are a challenge for the entire nation, New Mexico remains geographically well positioned for growth in the years ahead. The problem is policymakers have not embraced public policies oriented toward economic diversification.
On study after study, New Mexico sticks out like a sore thumb in having low levels of economic freedom relative to its neighbors and being less business-friendly. Our education system ranks poorly and is in need of big reforms that inspire confidence among families with children. The recent legislative session had a few bright spots like liquor tax reform, but recent tax hikes and newly-imposed business regulations will not help attract more private sector businesses.
Until a concerted effort is made to make New Mexico more attractive as a relocation destination for young families looking for a strong, diverse economy and a trustworthy education system, New Mexico will continue on the same unhappy, trajectory as the “sick man” of the American Southwest.