State demographics

N.M. is growing even as residents move away

From 2010-17, New Mexico saw negative net migration of 27,500, census data show

By Andrew Oxford
aoxford@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 10/8/18

More people have been moving out of the state than into it, with college-educated residents in particular making for the exits.

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State demographics

N.M. is growing even as residents move away

From 2010-17, New Mexico saw negative net migration of 27,500, census data show

Posted

New Mexico's population has grown only slightly since the Great Recession.

In that time, more people have been moving out of the state than into it, with college-educated residents in particular making for the exits.

A new analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City shows the extent of outward migration that's manifested in conversations at graduation ceremonies and guidance counselor appointments across New Mexico and borne out in cold, hard data showing a sort of brain drain.

The state saw negative net migration between 2010 and 2017, losing about 27,500 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

The largest share went to Colorado, which has been booming and where Denver has emerged as a magnet for younger professionals. The second-largest chunk went to Texas, New Mexico's sprawling economic juggernaut of a neighbor. Thousands of other New Mexicans went to Arizona, Oregon and North Carolina.

The state did gain residents, particularly from Florida, Maryland, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio.

Ultimately, New Mexico's population has grown, if slowly, thanks in no small part to migration from outside the country.

Still, only six of New Mexico's 33 counties saw positive net migration from 2010-17. Santa Fe County was one of those six.

But data from 2010-16 show many of those fleeing the Land of Enchantment had higher levels of education than those moving in.

The state saw net outflow of those with some college education, bachelor's degrees or advanced diplomas. At the same time, many of those coming to the state had high school degrees or less formal education. More recent data is not yet available.

This does little to raise the profile of a state that already notches one of the country's highest rates of residents without a high school diploma.

Meanwhile, people age 25 to 44 earning between $50,000 and $100,000 a year accounted for a large share of those leaving New Mexico. The bulk of people moving into Colorado were taking with them bachelor's or advanced degrees.

New Mexico might finally be turning a corner. Its unemployment rate saw the largest decline of any state over the last year.

Though the jobless rate remains among the nation's highest, earnings have begun to improve.

"We could see some improvement," said Alison Felix, vice president and Denver branch executive at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

"... As New Mexico's economy continues to strengthen, I would expect that net migration number to turn positive as well."

After all, the rise and fall in the numbers of people moving into New Mexico has proven cyclical.

Reflecting a trend throughout the Sun Belt, people poured into the state through the 1990s and from around 2000 until 2010.

Could we be on another upswing?

When Albuquerque native Erica Dang graduated from the University of New Mexico, she wanted to see what else was out there and moved to Denver, drawn by the prospect of living in a bigger city not too far from home. She moved to Denver when she was 25. She's now 32.

In the past few years, she has noticed a wave of New Mexicans moving to Colorado.

"Now I feel like most of my close friends live up here," she said.

Why? And would they ever move back?

That's a conversation Dang has been having a lot lately.

It is not that they do not like their home state; Dang said she sometimes feels a little guilty for leaving. But for many of her peers, there are fewer opportunities for work in New Mexico, she added.

"We all love New Mexico and love where we came from and miss the food," said Dang, who works in financial services. "It would be cheaper to live in New Mexico. But what would we be doing for our jobs?"

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