LCSN: NM awaits census data, federal funding

March 5, 2011. Retrieved online March 7, 2011 from Steve Ramirez, Las Cruces Sun-News

LAS CRUCES – In a sense, waiting for census results could be compared to waiting for an income tax refund.

Nobody knows exactly when New Mexico’s 2010 census data will be released, and Census Bureau officials aren’t tipping their hand.

Like the tax refund, the documentation for the census has been filed and compiled. Many federal, state and city officials have a decent idea of what census numbers will look like, just as people do in expecting how much of a tax refund they’ll be getting this year.

“When you consider that federal funding is a significant and important part of the (city) budget, and that’s because of population figures that come from the census, those numbers, all of that data, is vital and critical to the city of Las Cruces,” City Manager Robert Garza said.

Like the cash in hand from a tax refund, favorable census results can mean more money for a state, and especially local governments like Las Cruces and Dona Ana County.

“It’s tremendously important,” said James T. Peach, a New Mexico State University regents professor, whose primary research interests include population economics. “At the federal level, hundreds of billions of dollars are allocated to states and communities based on their population size. That portion of federal funding can vary depending on whether a community’s population grew or not.”

Mayor Ken Miyagishima said federal funding based on city residents can add up.

“I was asked to speak about census, and on the information given to me, I want to say that the federal funding per person is about $7,000,” said Miyagishima, of federal dollars for city programs and services. “It’s a good chunk of money.”

Peach added census data is just about as important to the private sector.

“When firms are looking for a place to locate, some of the things they’ll look for first are population size, growth rates and income levels,” Peach said. “The last few years, Las Cruces has been big enough, and we’ve experienced some of those benefits. Private companies and large corporate businesses use that data to determine if our community is well off enough to attract all kinds of things.”

What’s included in 2010 Census data

Stacy Gimbel Vidal, census spokeswoman, said a myriad of information should become available once the census data is released to a state.

“For each state, the Census Bureau will provide summaries of population totals, as well as data on race, Hispanic or Latino origin and voting age for multiple levels of geography within the state, such as census blocks, tracts, voting districts, cities, counties, school districts and such,” Vidal said. “The Census Bureau will also provide housing unit counts with their occupancy status.”

“Population data is always going to be incredibly important to the public and private sectors,” Peach said. “Historically, the estimates have been adjusted substantially.”

But he couldn’t speculate what some of Las Cruces’ and New Mexico’s census data might reveal. As it is in many circumstances, there should be some intrigue while waiting for the unknown.

“The best we can do is wait and see what the numbers are,” Peach said. “…No census is ever perfect. They do their best to try to count as many people as they can. That requires the cooperation of everyone, but not everyone is cooperative.”

Surprises and getting older

Peach said the biggest surprise could be not the number of people, but how old they are.

“The biggest surprise they might find is that our population is aging,” Peach said.

“Based on the trends of our state, there should be fewer young people, accounting for a smaller percentage of the population than we’ve been accustomed to seeing. It may be that our median age is now 34. A couple of decades ago, it was in the 20s. The median age across the U.S. was 36 a few years ago, and we’re starting to catch up to that.”

According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which provides annual population estimates and demographics, the median age of Las Cruces residents in 2009 was 33 years old.

There aren’t too many people willing to predict what the city’s population will be when census results are finally released. But Miyagishima is willing to dream a little.

“I’m hoping the city breaks 100,000,” he said.

Las Cruces’ estimated population in 2009, according to American Community Survey estimates, was 93,452.

Read the Las Cruces Sun-News article.


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