It’s amazing what you can learn about a place from its numbers.
U.S. Census Bureau numbers, that is. If you’ve never linked into its Quick Facts data, you don’t know what you’re missing.
For example, from this data I can tell you that when compared to our three big neighbors to the west, north and east—Arizona, Colorado and Texas—New Mexico is the widest of the wide-open country that makes up the American Southwest.
Only Texas covers a larger swath of land, but with 96.3 people per square mile, it’s much more densely populated than New Mexico’s 17 people per square mile. The Land of Enchantment has more elbow room than anyone around us.
New Mexico is indeed a sparsely populated state, and we’re barely growing at all—by a paltry 1.3 percent, according to the last set of numbers, which pales in comparison to Arizona, Colorado and Texas, which have been seeing 6.8 percent, 8.5 to 9.2 percent population growth, respectively.
Another difference between New Mexico and our neighbors is that we’re more diverse. A far greater percentage of New Mexicans identify themselves as Hispanic and American Indian than any of the neighboring states, making us one of only four “majority-minority” states in the union.
Texas is another majority-minority state, but that’s because of its African-American and Hispanic populations; less than 1 percent of Texans consider themselves Native. Here, nearly 10 percent of the census-takers identified themselves as American Indian.
Economically, New Mexico lags way behind its neighbors. In the Census category of total employment, we actually dropped 0.6 percent between 2013 and 2014, while neighboring states all grew jobs—Colorado’s by an impressive 4.3 percent. Hmm, I wonder what’s going on up there?
The Census also allows us to see how New Mexico stacks up to the rest of the nation. Tap into the data about health, housing, education and income and it’s easy to see that, compared to the rest of the nation: We’re slightly less educated but more of us own our own homes; more of us suffer from disabilities but fewer of us have health insurance; and a lot more of us, one out of five, are in poverty.
Thanks to the numbers, here’s what we know about New Mexico: It’s a diverse state with lots of room to grow, but it’s not. Our economy is stagnant at best, and jobs are hard to find. But we’re not interested in moving away, so we stay despite the difficulties.
Sounds like New Mexico to me.
* * *
But wait, there’s more! QuickFacts also lets you drill down to specific cities and towns all over America and draw up comparisons. We can crisscross the state with our data mining, from the southwest to the northeast regions of our state, as well as northwest to southeast.
Let’s start with Silver City and Las Vegas, since they’ve frequently been compared to one another, if for no reason other than the fact that, in 1893, the Territory of New Mexico created its first two normal schools to train teachers in these two towns.
Silver City and Las Vegas are similar in size and demographics, though Vegas has a much higher percentage of Hispanics and is losing population at a higher rate. Silver City has a stronger economy while Las Vegas has more government jobs. And while both have poverty rates higher than the whole of New Mexico, Silver City’s is only slightly higher while Las Vegas is at an alarming level—37.7 percent of Las Vegas’ population is in poverty.
Now let’s take a look at the oil-and-gas areas of our state, where Farmington and Hobbs act as hubs for the state’s energy production. Farmington is larger in population but people are moving out; Hobbs has been growing for some time now. And while both cities have poverty rates higher than the nation’s, they’re much lower than the state’s.
New Mexico depends on oil-and-gas revenues to feed state government, but the greatest beneficiaries of such energy exploitation are in the cities, towns and basins that produce them.
* * *
Want to see the actual numbers for yourself? Type into a search bar “census.gov/quickfacts” and see where it takes you.
The U.S. Census Bureau has been around since the formation of our nation (the U.S. Constitution requires a census be taken every decade) and has grown into a mountain of data that’s easily viewed by anyone with internet access.
Unfortunately, however, one must be careful with such factual information. After all, it’s based on hard data and scientific extrapolation—and that could get in the way of a lot of opinions.
Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and the Roswell Daily Record. He may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.