Census: Los Alamos, Sandoval counties lead NM in population growth

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For the sixth year in a row, more people moved out of New Mexico than moved in, but the state’s total population stayed steady last year as births continued to outpace deaths, according to recently released federal census data.

The data show Los Alamos and Sandoval counties leading with population growth between July 2016 and July 2017, while oil field boom towns in Eddy and Lea counties, which showed a spike in residents from 2012-2015, actually dropped in population. Local experts say the oil boom counties are now rebounding.

Los Alamos County even made the national top 10 list for fastest-growing micropolitan areas, those with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents, ranking 5th with a growth of 3.13 percent.

The state’s largest county, Bernalillo County, followed the state trend with more moving out than moving in. The data show that overall it grew by about 1,185 people — about 0.18 percent — to 676,773. The data show a net loss of 749 residents from migration.

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Overall the state’s population grew just 0.3 percent to 2,088,070.

“We are growing, but it’s nominal growth because births are down, deaths are up and migration is out, and those three things are what drive population growth,” said Robert Rhatigan, associate director for Geospatial and Population Studies at the University of New Mexico.

The U.S. Census Bureau uses vital statistics of births and deaths to track what it calls natural population change and tax filings to track people moving in and out of the state, which it calls migration. Migration is the trickier of the data because people sometimes don’t file taxes or might work in one state and file taxes in another. Together, migration and natural change make up the total population change.

New Mexico’s total population grew by 2,638 people: that growth accounts for slightly more than 25,200 births and 17,800 deaths and a net loss of 4,666 residents to migration.

International residents, which can include U.S. citizens or military people moving back to the U.S., dominated the state’s incoming migration trend, with a net gain of 2,771 international residents. At the same time, 7,437 more domestic residents moved out of the state than moved in.

That was the same migration trend for the state in 2015-16, when the total state population grew but only by about 700 people.

These past two years of overall growth, while small, cap six straight years of net migration loss.

“That’s because our neighboring states began recovering from the recession and we didn’t,” Rhatigan said.

Pockets of net positive migration held steady in southern New Mexico as the oil and gas industry flourished through 2016. But the oil prices drop precipitated a population decline captured in this snapshot, which logged a net loss of 804 residents from Eddy County and a net loss of 1,709 residents from Lea County — the most dramatic net loss in migration of any county during this period.

“Population data lags, and so this loss was related to the fact that our big economic driver, which is really oil production, was really in a swoon for two years or so. It’s since come out of that,” said Steve Vierck, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Lea County.

Rhatigan said the Lea and Eddy population counts, like all in this snapshot, are estimates based in part on IRS fillings. That means oil and gas employees who work in New Mexico but also live in other states might have filed their taxes elsewhere, thus skewing population stats.

At the same rate that Lea County lost residents, Sandoval County gained them.

The county marked the largest total population growth in the state with a total of 2,283 new residents — about 1.6 percent growth. About 1,900 were relocations to Sandoval County from elsewhere in the U.S.

“It’s a bedroom community for both Albuquerque and Santa Fe,” Rhatigan said. “New homes are being built, and it’s a place to get an affordable and brand new home and decent schools.”

Los Alamos County also topped the list of percentage growth, with 3.13 percent, but the county gained only a net 586 residents.

In Doña Ana County, 294 international people took residency along with about 96 domestic relocations. The county as a whole grew 0.79 percent by about 1,705 people.

Santa Fe County grew by about 807 people, about 0.54 percent. It drew the second biggest domestic migration with 550 relocations and 148 international relocations.

Overall, 14 New Mexico counties experienced total population growth, none more than Los Alamos County. Harding County saw no net growth or loss. The other 18 counties dropped population, none more than Lea County’s 1.59 percent.

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