Census Bureau projects growth slowdown

Staff and wire reports

SANTA FE — New Mexico faces a potential shock if the Census Bureau’s crystal ball proves accurate about population growth over the next three decades.

The federal agency projects a dramatic slowdown in the rate of growth in New Mexico’s population between 2000 and 2030.

According to projections released last week, New Mexico’s total population is expected to grow only about 15 percent over three decades and just 0.7 percent from 2020 to 2030. A slight decline is projected from 2025 to 2030.

Not everybody in New Mexico agrees with the Census Bureau’s projections, however.

The Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico has prepared an independent set of population projections for the state. Those call for much more robust population growth — nearly 44 percent from 2000 to 2030.

However, according the university group, Curry County’s population is projected to grow by just over 2,000 residents (about 4 1/3 percent) through 2030. The county is also projected to show a decline from 2025 to 2030, matching the state’s decline over the same period as predicted by the Census Bureau.

One Eastern New Mexico University professor disagrees with the BBER numbers, though.

“Their projections on future growth are based on how we have grown in the past,” said Sue Stockly, professor in economics at ENMU. “The fact that we have grown a lot in the past year … just won’t be included in those numbers.”

She said the BBER numbers are based off population growth between 1990 and 2000, when Curry County’s population flagged. But she said new business growth and a tight housing market in recent years means Curry County will probably grow faster than projected by the BBER.
The state as a whole grew much faster in recent decades than the bureaus have predicted for its future.

New Mexico’s population increased 20 percent from 1990 to 2000; 16 percent from 1980 to 1990; and 28 percent from 1970 to 1980. That’s according to the government’s decennial census.

“If you historically look at our last three decades, they’ve put the brakes on our growth rate,” Brian Sanderoff, an Albuquerque demographer and pollster, said of the Census Bureau’s projections.

“It has incredible implications for our state and how people look at growth and … our future development plans, how we plan out our health care and matching federal funding programs. This is important business here, these census projections.”

Myoung-Ouk Kim, a Census Bureau demographer, said in an interview that the projections are based on trends of births, deaths, migration of people moving into and out of the state and immigration from other countries.

She said New Mexico’s projected growth mostly stems from migration — more people moving into the state — and immigration. Births are expected to decline starting in about 2010 and the aging of the baby boomer population will lead to more deaths.

The UNM group contends that the Census Bureau has been low with its yearly estimates of New Mexico’s population since the mid-1990s, and that those estimates skew the federal government’s projections of future population patterns.

Kevin Kargacin, head of information services for the BBER, said UNM researchers look at additional information, such as building permits, to shed more light on population growth, particularly from migration.