The Sick Man of the American Southwest

New Mexico's population growth disappoints, again

In October, the mayor of New Mexico’s largest city claimed that on “a relative basis, Albuquerque stands to be a huge winner” from the socioeconomic carnage wrought by the massive policy blunders committed in response to COVID-19. Earlier this month, the Land of Enchantment’s governor extended the sunny outlook to the entire state: “New Mexico is very well positioned to come out of this pandemic and the economic harshness in a very productive way. And we are positioned to not only recruit back our Boomerang New Mexicans, but to also keep our incredibly talented young people right here. I’m really optimistic about the future.”

Optimism, meet reality.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Census Bureau released its annual estimates for state populations as of July 1. And once again, New Mexico underperformed. Badly.

True, it was hardly a year of impressive expansion for the U.S. — the Brookings Institution’s William H. Frey noted the “unprecedented growth stagnation”:

[O]ver the period from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020, the nation grew by just 0.35%. This is the lowest annual … rate since at least 1900. The new data also shows that when the 2020 census numbers are announced, the 2010-to-2020 decade growth rate could be the lowest in any decade since the first census was conducted [in] 1790.

But looking state by state, and region by region, it’s clear that there were both champions and chumps. The American Southwest, a perennial star, continued its multi-decadal hot streak. But New Mexico didn’t participate — in fact, the Land of Enchantment’s increase was lower than the national figure:

Source: KIVA analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data

A one-year slump? If only. The trend holds up for the entire decade:  

Source: KIVA analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data

A favorable cost of living, spectacular scenery, fascinating history/culture, great food, and arguably the best weather in the conterminous United States. New Mexico should be enjoying a booming population. But it isn’t. It’s worth asking if anyone in Santa Fe will ever be curious to discover why.

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