Is New Mexico Becoming a Gerontocracy?

While an aging population has its advantages — seniors don’t send too many children to government schools, and crime is overwhelmingly committed by the young — it’s not all good.

The elderly “demand” a fair amount of government services, at the local, state, and federal levels, and a smaller pool of workers doesn’t do much for economic growth.

That’s why a Governing analysis issued last month should be of tremendous concern to New Mexicans. Between 2010 and 2016, only one state (Mississippi) lost a greater share of Generation X residents. For Millennials, the results were exactly the same — Illinois alone lost a larger portion of America’s largest group by age. Each of the Land of Enchantment’s five neighbors grew their populations of Xers and Millennials.

The future is anyone’s guess. “Generation Alpha” is still being born, but New Mexico’s fertility rate has been trending downward, suggesting that if the cohort is to grow here, it will need to be imported.

Positive in-migration would be a major reversal for the Land of Enchantment. Millennials have been outbound for years, and the trend doesn’t appear to be changing. A recent New Mexico in Depth survey of UNM students “distributed to 29 upperclassmen of 27 different majors, in both the arts and science fields,” found that “nearly two-thirds, or 27, said they plan to leave the Land of Enchantment for better job markets.”

The state’s generational trend is one more reason why a slate of proven economic-development policies, implemented immediately, is essential.

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5 Replies to “Is New Mexico Becoming a Gerontocracy?”

  1. While New Mexico needs a long-term economic development program to retain and attract working-age adults, attracting more retirees may be a good short-term strategy. They don’t need jobs or good schools, and will generate jobs for caregivers, retail workers and home builders. Best of all, retirees VOTE. So attracting retirees from outside the state may be the fastest way to upgrade the electorate and build support for business-friendly public policies.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, James. You could be right. I just wanted to highlight the demographic data and suggest that this is one trend that we haven’t been talking about, but should.

      One thing I didn’t mention: If a significant portion of the New Mexico population pays its bills with checks from the feds (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid), that’s a recipe for disaster. The D.C. fiscal reckoning is coming — maybe not next month or next year, but eventually. When those benefits are rolled back, the impact on fiscal policy and the economy will be huge.

      I’m not “for” or “against” senior citizens, and I certainly don’t think central planners are even remotely qualified to judge what the “right” median age is for New Mexico. (The “let’s be HIP and COOL to attract Millennials” stuff we constantly hear from the “economic development” bureaucracy is pathetic.) But an increasingly elderly population has consequences, and as people concerned about public policy in the state, I figured Errors of Enchantment readers would be interested in the data.

      1. No question that populating the state with seniors while driving away productive working-age folks is a demographic time bomb. However, as the state goes increasingly blue it’s less likely that we will see the deregulation and education reform needed for economic development.

  2. Based on demographic data dating from the 1950s through the present, both Dona Ana County here on the border and the adjacent El Paso County in Texas have been net exporters of human capital for over 50 years – The educated people of promise left earliest, and in the 70s and 80s community college grads figured they could both find a job and earn more elsewhere. And now even girls (Gasp!) are enjoying similar freedom of movement.

  3. Until New Mexico reduces its crime rate, it will be difficult to convince anyone to move here. A reputation of deplorable schools furthermore prevents the desire to live in this state. We appear to be at the bottom of so many categories when compared to other states. After driving all over this country, it is apparent we rate among the worst drivers. Is it any wonder so many choose the leave our Land of Enchantment. Since I am a native and a senior citizen, I have chosen to live here as much as any thing because I love the climate and locale. And yes, I do vote!

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