Since 2011, the awful Susana Martinez has been governor of New Mexico. Her anti-tax, anti-regulation leadership has led to New Mexico lagging far behind the rest of the Southwest in every metric. And while some of this is not necessarily her fault–after all, it’s not as if New Mexico’s neighbors are bastions of liberalism–when a poor state doubles down on right-wing ideology, it really has a terrible impact that gives employers no good reason to locate there.
Between 2010 and 2016, about 53,000 more people moved out of New Mexico than moved in, according to U.S. Census estimates. But because there were more births than deaths, the state’s population grew nearly 22,000, or 1.1 percent, in the six-year time frame.
That’s far lower than the national average of 4.7 percent, and New Mexico experienced the weakest population growth in the Southwest: Neighboring Texas grew 10.8 percent, Arizona 8.4 percent and Oklahoma 4.6 percent between 2010 and 2016.
“It’s not surprising to me that we’re losing population,” says Democratic state Sen. Mimi Stewart, noting that the out-migration trend began in 2010, when Republican Gov. Susana Martinez took office. The two have often clashed on revenue-raising measures. “We’re not creating an atmosphere that makes people want to come to New Mexico through this governor’s policies.”
Of people who did move into the state, most were 25 to 29, or 60 or older. Rhatigan said he could not be certain why, but speculated that the state’s quality of life – spurred by its low cost of living and year-round sunshine – could be a draw for these groups. People in their mid-20s could be pursuing advanced degrees at one of the state’s universities or military installations, and older folks may be headed to New Mexico to retire or return to one of the state’s 22 tribal lands. He also says immigration from outside the U.S. could contribute to growth in the mid-20s cohort.
New Mexico’s recent population stagnancy is a first for the state – between 2000 and 2010, the state was among the fastest-growing in the U.S., increasing its population by 13 percent.
Before and during the recession of 2007 to 2009, New Mexico’s unemployment rate was lower than the national average. But as the state’s economy has struggled to recover as quickly as others, most of the major employers in New Mexico are facing budget cuts and constraints. Many of the state’s largest employers rely on government funding, including universities, hospitals and research labs.
But critics say the tax breaks have failed to recruit companies or bring jobs to New Mexico and have left the state with underfunded public services such as education and health care.
“This idea that cutting taxes for business is supposed to produce jobs — we are a state where that policy has failed miserably,” Stewart says, citing New Mexico’s teacher shortage in recent years.
Health care and social assistance was the fastest-growing industry between 2011 and 2015, accounting for nearly 17 percent of New Mexico’s total employment, according to a report released in June by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. But overall labor force participation rates dropped from 61 percent to 58.4 percent, well below the national average of 63.1 percent, during that time frame.
A recent uptick in the oil, natural gas and mining sector is the main reason for the state’s 2.8 percent growth in gross domestic product during the first quarter of 2017, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. Martinez credited the growth to her economic reforms, but the volatile industry, a significant source of state revenue, has been unreliable in recent years. Explosive growth between 2011 and 2015 was diminished by sharp losses in 2016, the Department of Workforce Solutions report said.
“Right now we have some skilled workers sitting on the sidelines,” Rhatigan says. “So if a company invests in New Mexico, there are workers here. But as those workers continue to leave, in 15 or 20 years we will have a shortage of young folks and there will be no incentive for employers to invest in New Mexico.”
What’s striking is how a consistently growing state has just completely crashed to population growth levels of states such as Rhode Island. Basically, New Mexico is becoming a state that caters to retirees and is populated by young people who have no other options other than getting out. There has never been a great economy in New Mexico and now there is nearly none. Instead of building up an economy based upon both public and private sector employers, Martinez and New Mexico Republicans have turned away from public employment while erasing what might get private employers to locate there. A microcosm of Republican governance nationwide.