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Census: New Mexico among slowest growing Western states

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s population grew by 2.8% over the last decade, making it one of the slowest growing states in the West, according to the first numbers released Monday from the 2020 census.

The Census Bureau said that overall, the national growth rate of 7.4% between 2010 and 2020 was the second slowest in U.S. history.

In the West, only Wyoming had a slower growth rate than New Mexico, where the count put the resident population at just over 2.1 million. That included 58,343 more people than a decade ago but not enough to gain an additional congressional seat. Neighboring Texas and Colorado gained seats as a result of their population increases.

New Mexico is one of the most difficult populations to accurately count, according to a comprehensive examination from the Center for Urban Research at the City University of New York. Census estimates also projected that roughly 43% of New Mexico’s population — about 900,000 people — live in “hard-to-count” areas.

The state last spring launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to ensure an accurate count of its heavily Hispanic and Native American population. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Monday called it a success that resulted from the hard work of hundreds of community members, nonprofit groups, tribes and others.

“The results of this immense effort will ensure that New Mexico receives every federal dollar to which we are entitled,” she said in a statement.

Lujan Grisham had signed an executive order that drew on members of her Cabinet and advocacy groups to encourage participation. The Legislature also set aside $3.5 million for counties to establish and staff complete count committees.

The governor’s office has estimated the state receives about $7.8 billion annually from the federal government based on census counts to underwrite health care, educational programs, transportation, housing and more. The governor and others had warned that even a 1% undercount could translate into more than $700 million in lost federal revenues over a decade.

The data released Monday was limited to population numbers only. Information about race and other demographics will be released later this year, federal officials said.

Census officials reiterated during a news conference Monday that they were confident in the data despite the challenges of counting that stemmed from the coronavirus pandemic.

A panel of New Mexico lawmakers is expected this week to discuss a report by legislative analysts, who found as part of their own review that more people were leaving the state than moving in and that a decrease of 19% in the birth rate contributed to the slow growth.

Even though New Mexico’s under-18 population shrank by 8.3%, the analysts found that the Hispanic population increased slightly and the Native American population grew by 10%, signaling long-term growth in diversity.

They also predicted that over the next decade, New Mexico will likely see overall declines, particularly among younger and rural populations.

Advocacy groups and other experts were not surprised by the slow growth.

James Jimenez, the executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, pointed to what he called a lost decade — from 2008 through 2018 — when the recession took its toll on the state. He said that resulted in little economic opportunity and state policymakers at the time took an austere approach to public spending.

“We heard many stories about young people leaving the state because there just weren’t jobs for them,” he said.

The legislative review found that what growth did occur happened in urban areas and the Permian Basin, which is home to one of the world’s largest oil reserves.

Aside from federal funding, the census results also will influence how legislative districts are drawn to ensure political representation. That redistricting process will ramp up later this year.

 

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