December 8th 2017 - Written by: Suzan Reagan

How We Know – brought to us by American Community Survey 2016 Data

New Mexico is known as the “Land of Enchantment” and those living in New Mexico have a sense of the distinctive socioeconomic characteristics that define it. In New Mexico, we recognize that culture and natural landscapes are very attractive assets, however New Mexican’s are also faced with income disparities, economic development difficulties, and slow community development. The question is how do we quantify our uniqueness and capitalize on our strengths and improve on our weaknesses? Where can we look to find data that tells us where we are now and where we are lacking in order to spark creative ideas and plan for our future?

Enter the American Community Survey (ACS) which is conducted annually by the US Census Bureau. The survey is comprehensive, with a total of 48 unique questions covering topics of employment, wages, income, commute times, housing, marriage, disability, education, sex, age, and race. ACS data is released in 1 year estimates for areas with populations over 65,000. Small areas all the way down to Census Tracts are released as 5 year estimates to assist in keeping individual information confidential (further information on ACS at the bottom of the article). The American Community Survey 5 Year Estimates for 2016 were released on December 7, 2017. These 5 year estimates allow us to analyze socioeconomic characteristics for small localities across New Mexico and help quantify our distinctive populations. This article is a high level look at selected data comparing New Mexico counties and statewide data. Note: 5 Year Estimate comparisons over time are done in non-overlapping estimates. The comparison discussion in this blog are for 2012-2016 to 2007-2011 estimates.

Population Characteristics –

Race and Ethnicity –

In many ways New Mexico defines what a diverse population is. Statewide, New Mexico has 47.8 percent of the population identifying as Hispanic or Latino (of any race). According to the ACS 5 Year Estimates for 2012-2016, there is an increase of 1.9 percent from 45.9 percent in 2007-2011. Compared to other states in the 2012-2016 ACS 5 Year Estimates, New Mexico had the highest Hispanic percentage of any state; California and Texas tied for second at 38.6 percent.

Counties across NM with the greatest percent of Hispanic population counts include, Mora County (79.9%), San Miguel County (77.6%), Rio Arriba County (71.4%), and Dona Ana County (71.4%). McKinley County had the lowest Hispanic population counts at 13.7 percent along with San Juan County with 19.8 percent. Both McKinley and San Juan Counties had two of the highest Native American population levels. McKinley County had 75.6 percent Native American population and San Juan County had 37.8 percent Native American population with Cibola County also high in Native American population of 40.1 percent. Looking at race regardless of Hispanic or Latino, New Mexican’s identified as: White 73.5 percent, American Indian 9.3 percent, Black 2 percent, Asian 1.4 percent (see table below).

Age –

New Mexico’s median age increased to 37.2 years in the 2016 ACS 5 Year Estimates which is up from 36.5 years in the 2011 ACS 5 Year Estimates. An aging population is a nationwide trend with the US median age at 37.7 years in the 2016 ACS 5 Year Estimates up from 37 years in the 2011 ACS 5 Year Estimates. Some counties in New Mexico experienced a much higher median age such as Catron County (58.1 years), Sierra County (56 years), Lincoln County (50.9 years), Colfax County (48.3 years), and Taos County (47.6 years). Sierra County had more than 50 percent of households with one or more people 65 years and over. The three youngest counties are Roosevelt County (29.7 years), Curry County (30.8 years), McKinley County (30.8 years), and Lea County (31.8 years) (See table below).

2012-2016 Estimates Race and Age
Area White Black or African American American Indian and Alaska Native Asian Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander Some other race Two or more races Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 2012-2016 Est. Median age (years) 2007-2011 Est. Median age (years) Difference
New Mexico 73.5 2 9.3 1.4 0.1 10.5 3.3 47.8 37.2 36.5 0.7
Bernalillo 72.3 2.9 4.6 2.4 0.1 13.5 4.2 49.1 36.8 35.8 1
Catron 97.1 0.8 0.3 0.3 0 0.0 1.4 19.3 58.1 57.4 0.7
Chaves 80.3 1.8 1.4 0.8 0.1 13.1 2.6 54.9 35.1 34.9 0.2
Cibola 43.9 1 40.1 0.6 0.1 11 3.3 37.9 35.8 36.6 -0.8
Colfax 85.2 0.5 2.2 0.5 0 8.2 3.4 49 48.3 46 2.3
Curry 70.3 6.2 1.1 1.6 0.2 17.2 3.3 40.4 30.8 31.6 -0.8
Debaca 71.6 0.0 0.0 0.2 0 0 1.4 19.3 49.7 48.2 1.5
Doña Ana 89 1.7 1.1 1 0 5.2 1.9 67.2 32.6 32.3 0.3
Eddy 90.8 1.4 1.2 0.5 0.1 4.6 1.4 46.7 36.4 37.3 -0.9
Grant 91 0.6 1.7 0.2 0 3.8 2.7 49.6 46.4 45.6 0.8
Guadalupe 84.1 1.5 1.7 0.0 0 10.1 2.6 77.5 41.1 40 1.1
Harding 92 0.0 0.2 0.0 0 1.9 5.8 41.9 58 52.2 5.8
Hidalgo 93.9 0.3 0.1 0.0 0 2.6 3.1 57.2 42.3 36.4 5.9
Lea 87.6 3.4 0.8 0.2 0 5.5 2.5 55.8 31.8 31.6 0.2
Lincoln 88.9 0.6 1.7 0.4 0 5.6 2.8 31.5 50.9 48.9 2
Los Alamos 86.5 0.5 1.3 5.9 0.1 3.5 2.4 16.8 43.5 43.7 -0.2
Luna 90.9 1.2 1.1 0.4 0 4.6 1.7 65 38.4 38.7 -0.3
McKinley 16 0.5 75.6 1 0 3.8 3 13.7 30.8 30.3 0.5
Mora 53.5 0.1 0.1 0 0 45.5 79.9 41.3 46.1 -4.8
Otero 77 3.6 7 1.3 0.1 7.2 3.9 36.8 35.7 36.2 -0.5
Quay 89.4 2 0.5 0.8 0.2 4.9 2.2 44.3 46.5 45.4 1.1
Rio Arriba 58.3 0.6 15.6 0.4 0 22.3 2.8 71.4 39.8 38.9 0.9
Roosevelt 74.1 2.6 1 0.4 0 17.9 4 40.6 29.7 29.6 0.1
Sandoval 70 2.1 12.4 1.4 0.1 9.8 4.2 37.3 39.4 37.7 1.7
San Juan 53.5 0.4 37.8 0.6 0.1 4.6 3 19.8 34.8 32.5 2.3
San Miguel 50 1.9 1.3 1 0.2 42.4 3.1 77.6 42.2 41 1.2
Santa Fe 83.4 0.8 3.4 1.2 0.1 8.6 2.6 51.1 45 42.6 2.4
Sierra 91.7 0.6 0.8 0.2 0 3.8 2.8 29.6 56 53.8 2.2
Socorro 78.2 0.2 12.3 1.1 0 4.9 3.3 49.4 35.8 36.2 -0.4
Taos 75.7 0.3 6.8 0.8 0 14.3 2.1 56.6 47.6 45 2.6
Torrance 91.6 1.8 1.4 0.2 0 1.4 3.6 41.2 43.7 41.3 2.4
Union 78 1.8 3.3 0.1 0 13.5 3.3 40.8 40.4 44.3 -3.9
Valencia 77.3 1.1 4.3 0.5 0 13.8 3 59.7 38.9 36.7 2.2
Source: US Census Amereican Community Survey

Table B02001 Race https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/16_5YR/B02001/0400000US35.05000 
Table S0101 Age and Sex https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/16_5YR/S0101/0400000US35.05000


Language spoken at home –

New Mexico has a significant bilingual population. In the 2016 ACS 5 Year Estimates the primary language spoken at home was English at 64.6 percent with 35.4 percent of the population spoke another language at home. Only 8.9 percent of people in New Mexico where identified as speaking English less than “very well”. The language other than English with the greatest number of speakers is Spanish, accounting for 28 percent statewide. Counties with the highest percent of languages spoken at home other than English were Rio Arriba County (62.4%), San Miguel County (57.7%), McKinley County (55.4%) and Luna County (51.5%). McKinley and San Juan Counties showed a high percentage of Native American Indian languages spoken at home (see table below).

2012-2016 Estimates for Language Spoken at home – Population 5 years and over
Area English only Language other than English  – Speak English less than “very well” Spanish
New Mexico 64.6 35.4 8.9 28
Bernalillo 69.4 30.6 8.3 25
Catron 73 26.9 2.2 25.6
Chaves 63.6 36.4 11.8 34.6
Cibola 57 43 9.8 20.7
Colfax 78.5 21.5 5 20
Curry 72.9 27.1 7.7 25.2
Debaca 68.1 31.9 10.9 31.9
Doña Ana 49 51 14.5 49
Eddy 74 26 6 24.7
Grant 71.2 28.8 4.1 27.6
Guadalupe 49 51 15.9 49.9
Harding 64.8 35.2 7.5 35.2
Hidalgo 58.6 41.40 40.2 23.6
Lea 58.5 41.5 13.4 40.6
Lincoln 76.7 23.3 7.4 21.3
Los Alamos 83.7 16.3 4.2 8.1
Luna 48.5 51.5 18 50.4
McKinley 44.6 55.4 11.1 5.6
Mora County 29.4 70.60 18.8 69.3
Otero 72.6 27.4 10.3 21.4
Quay 77.1 22.9 3.7 22.5
Rio Arriba 38.6 61.4 5.4 51.2
Roosevelt 70.4 29.6 8.9 26.5
Sandoval 72.4 27.6 4.3 16.5
San Juan 68.9 31.1 5.2 9.8
San Miguel 42.3 57.7 17.7 54.9
Santa Fe 65.3 34.7 9.3 30.5
Sierra 80.5 19.5 3.1 18.4
Socorro 59.6 40.4 15.1 29.1
Taos 56 44 6.4 36.7
Torrance 75.5 24.5 4.9 23.9
Union 73.9 26.10 39.0 24.40
Valencia 65.2 34.8 8.2 32
Source: US Census Bureau American Community Survey
Table S1601

https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/16_5YR/S1601/0400000US35.05000

Income; and well, Poverty

The median household income for New Mexico was $45,674 according to the ACS 5 Year Estimates for 2016. This represents a decrease of $1,838 from the $47,512 median household income from the ACS 5 Year Estimates for 2011. This result shows a continuing impact of the Great Recession on New Mexicans.

A few data caveats are important to bring up about the household income estimates. Income is more than just wages or earnings as it could also include social security, retirement, interest dividends and other sources of income. Also, households with more than one worker often report higher incomes.

The counties with the highest median household incomes in 2016 ACS 5 Year Estimates include, Los Alamos County ($105,902), Sandoval County ($60,158), and Eddy County ($59,625). The counties with the lowest median household incomes were Mora County ($21,190), Guadalupe County ($26,692) and San Miguel County ($27,000). The counties with the greatest decline in median household income included Colfax County, Los Alamos County, Rio Arriba County and San Miguel County. The five counties which show median household income increases include Chaves County, Eddy County, Lea County, Otero County and Sierra County (see table below). Another way to measure income is “per capita.” In New Mexico, for 2016 ACS 5 year Estimates per capita income was $24,459 a decrease of $652 from the $25,111 in 2011 ACS 5 Year Estimates. Per capita income numbers often feel more real when talking about earnings, but earnings alone doesn’t always paint the complete picture.

Poverty is a concept related to “not enough money” to purchase the basics needed for life such as food, clothing, housing and transportation. New Mexico’s percentage of families and people whose income in the past 12 months is below the poverty level was 15.9 from the 2016 ACS 5 Year Estimates. This represents an increase of 1.5 from the 2011 ACS 5 Year Estimates of 14.4 percent. The counties with the highest poverty estimates were McKinley County (32.5%), Luna County (23.2%), and Cibola County (23%). There are six counties for which income data and/or poverty estimates had either high variability and large margins of error that make comparisons over time difficult they are Catron County, Guadalupe County, Harding County, Hidalgo County, Mora County, and Union County.

Income and Poverty American Community Survey 2012-2016 Estimates & 2007-2011 Estimates
Area 2012-2016 Est; INCOME AND BENEFITS (IN 2016 INFLATION-ADJUSTED DOLLARS) – Total households – Median household income (dollars) 2007-2011 Est; INCOME AND BENEFITS (IN 2016 INFLATION-ADJUSTED DOLLARS) – Total households – Median household income (dollars) Difference 2012-2016 Est; INCOME AND BENEFITS (IN 2016 INFLATION-ADJUSTED DOLLARS) – Per capita income (dollars) 2007-2011 Est; INCOME AND BENEFITS (IN 2016 INFLATION-ADJUSTED DOLLARS) – Per capita income (dollars) Difference 2012-2016 Est; PERCENTAGE OF FAMILIES AND PEOPLE WHOSE INCOME IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS IS BELOW THE POVERTY LEVEL – All families 2007-2011 Est; PERCENTAGE OF FAMILIES AND PEOPLE WHOSE INCOME IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS IS BELOW THE POVERTY LEVEL – All families Difference
New Mexico 45,674 47,512 -1,838 24,459 25,111 -652 15.9 14.4 1.5
Bernalillo 48,994 51,407 -2,413 27,402 28,419 -1,017 14.5 12.5 2
Catron 38,142 N/A 20,762 N/A 10.3 10
Chaves 41,356 39,785 1,571 21,015 20,018 997 17.6 15.7 1.9
Cibola 36,160 38,404 -2,244 16,885 15,853 1,032 23 18.9 4.1
Colfax 32,693 40,610 -7,917 20,911 22,979 -2,068 16.9 13.8 3.1
Curry 42,170 43,036 -866 21,502 21,928 -426 18.1 15.8 2.3
Debaca 31,197 N/A 28,232 N/A 8.00 14.10
Doña Ana 38,636 39,696 -1,060 20,143 20,352 -209 21.7 20.6 1.1
Eddy 59,625 50,950 8,675 27,974 27,833 141 10.1 8.7 1.4
Grant 38,890 39,414 -524 24,882 23,178 1,704 14.8 12.5 2.3
Guadalupe 26,692 N/A 16,034 N/A 12.10 27.10 -15
Harding 32,404 N/A 23,339 N/A 6.40 11.40 -5
Hidalgo 34,528 N/A 18,077 N/A 20.20 20.60 -0.4
Lea 58,152 49,711 8,441 24,126 21,954 2,172 12.8 13.1 -0.3
Lincoln 40,065 47,691 -7,626 25,230 27,362 -2,132 12.6 9 3.6
Los Alamos 105,902 112,000 -6,098 51,066 53,208 -2,142 3.1 1.6 1.5
Luna 27,326 32,754 -5,428 15,650 17,370 -1,720 23.2 23.6 -0.4
McKinley 29,272 34,227 -4,955 12,882 14,078 -1,196 32.5 25.5 7
Mora 21,190 N/A 13,826 N/A 19.10 10.50 8.6
Otero 41,502 41,108 394 20,652 21,409 -757 19.4 15.8 3.6
Quay 28,159 31,915 -3,756 18,285 19,350 -1,065 14.4 12.1 2.3
Rio Arriba 33,972 42,906 -8,934 19,600 21,276 -1,676 16.5 15.8 0.7
Roosevelt 34,933 38,341 -3,408 18,447 18,872 -425 19.8 19.6 0.2
Sandoval 60,158 61,397 -1,239 27,060 28,546 -1,486 10 9.3 0.7
San Juan 48,624 52,294 -3,670 22,927 22,907 20 16.2 15.5 0.7
San Miguel 27,000 34,430 -7,430 16,990 20,409 -3,419 21.4 17.5 3.9
Santa Fe 55,370 57,560 -2,190 34,176 34,865 -689 10.9 11.3 -0.4
Sierra 29,679 29,397 282 20,495 18,172 2,323 14.6 11.7 2.9
Socorro 34,542 36,074 -1,532 17,277 19,424 -2,147 14.7 20.4 -5.7
Taos 35,323 38,687 -3,364 22,302 23,605 -1,303 15.7 16.6 -0.9
Torrance 32,067 34,420 -2,353 18,967 18,225 742 21.5 17.3 4.2
Union 36,420 N/A 21,091 N/A 16.40 4.40 12
Valencia 41,788 44,068 -2,280 19,842 21,332 -1,490 18.6 17.4 1.2
Source: US Census Bureau American Community Survey Table DP03 https://factfinder.census.gov/bkmk/table/1.0/en/ACS/16_5YR/DP03/0400000US35.05000

By looking at six measures of the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, race/ethnicity, language spoken at home, age, median household income, per capita income and poverty we are able to quantify what it means to live in New Mexico, and helps identify the characteristics of the people who live here and some of the economic situations they face. Each community can use this information to help inform business decisions and public policy making. The data reviewed in this article is a small fraction of what is available from the ACS. There are many activities that ACS data should be used for such as:

  • Where to locate new businesses based on potential customers for a specific service or product and the workforce needed.
  • Local government providing better transportation services such as highways and streets cutting down on commute times to work.
  • Improved broadband access for rural communities and other deserving neighborhoods.
  • Affordable housing.
  • Better school outcomes for New Mexicans.

The ACS annually collects social and economic information on our states population. You can see an example of the 2017 American Community Survey Questionnaire and Instruction guide here: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/methodology/questionnaire-archive.html . There is information on why each question is asked available on the Census website at https://www.census.gov/acs/www/about/why-we-ask-each-question/  as well as other technical documentation form the Census ACS website at https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/

If you or someone you know receive an ACS packet, it is vital that it be completed for the future of New Mexico. Completing the packet takes approximately 40 minutes and can be completed via paper, phone, over secure encrypted website or by an in-person interview. This annual survey replaces the long-form which was sent to 1 in 6 households during the 2000 Census. The move to this annual survey allows for more current information between Decennial Censuses.

The Data Bank at UNM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) is available to assist anyone in need of access to ACS data and providing instruction on Census data in general. Please feel free to call the BBER Data Bank at 277-3038.


The Bureau of Business & Economic Research employs a diverse staff with a wide range of specializations and interests. The views and opinions expressed on this blog belong to the individual authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of BBER or UNM.

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