New Mexico has always had some of the hardest-to-count census communities, and with the 2020 census just around the corner, it’s not too early for local governments to get involved and make sure every household is counted.
That’s the message of Robert Rhatigan and other experts at The University of New Mexico Center for Geospatial Population Studies, the state’s data partner for the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the 2010 census, New Mexico had the second lowest response rate in the United States, and UNM estimates there may have been an undercount of between 1 percent and 2 percent.
That might seem like a small potatoes, but a lower count equates into fewer federal dollars because the census is used to allocate $600 billion in federal money for 150 programs from housing to education. And if the people are here but are not counted, then the services are essentially being provided by the state with no federal contributions.
Rhatigan estimates that a 1 percent undercount means a loss of $600 million over 10 years for the state in the programs where dollars are allocated by population.
One might ask, how do state experts know folks have been not been counted if the U.S. government and its census-takers can’t find them? The answer lies in the amount of data used. While the census uses information from the Department of Health, births and deaths for instance, state demographers also use micro-level information such as school enrollment numbers, voter registrations, vehicle registrations and building permits.
Rhatigan points out there are already many reasons to be concerned about the integrity of the upcoming census.
For instance, in past years, the Census Bureau has paid for local census-takers to knock on a door or visit a household as many as six times if a questionnaire was not returned. But if money is short — or if politics becomes a factor — will this diligence persist?
There is also the question of internet surveys, which will be the preferred method of response in 2020. New Mexico is a state with a lower concentration of internet users than elsewhere, so there will be a need for those in rural communities to gather at a public location, a library or community center, to fill out forms electronically.
That will require outreach and communications, both of which will cost more money.
But there is something city, county, village and tribal governments can do today to help make a more accurate count in 2020 — participate in a program called LUCA, or Local Update of Census Address, from today through the middle of 2018. This program will help the Census Bureau identify where to mail survey forms and proof the data for inaccuracies and omissions, important to find new homes and subdivisions.
When companies expand
Make no mistake, recent announcements by several companies that they are expanding in New Mexico is good news.
There was the big rollout a few weeks ago from Facebook, which said it was moving ahead with all six buildings at its new data center, ensuring some 800 construction jobs at the site in Los Lunas through 2023, and then a few hundred or so permanent workers thereafter.
And there have been additional expansion plans announced by satellite imaging company Descartes Labs, which is moving into a permanent Santa Fe headquarters and will add 50 new jobs in the coming year, and another from UbiQD, a micromaterials company that is concentrating on refining the technology for solar windows.
All three of these firms are receiving economic incentive grants from state and local governments for buildings and infrastructure, an expensive investment for any company, even giants like Facebook. Both Descartes and UbiQD also will receive money to help train its employees, and Facebook can qualify for those funds when it makes application in late 2018-19.
Though state and local officials are quick to say they are “creating jobs” with these taxpayer loans and grants, it really is innovation, talent and technology that is growing these companies.
Yes, it’s generous for government to help bridge the financing challenges that businesses face — especially in the case of UbiQD, which is still small and does not yet have a product to market. And let’s face it, there is some cachet in saying that the city of Santa Fe, Los Alamos County and the state of New Mexico are partnering with these highly respected and fast-growing businesses.
That’s exactly what Economic Development Department Secretary Matt Geisel said Monday at an announcement with Gov. Susana Martínez and Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales. He touted the work at Descartes and UbiQd, both of which had their origins at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“It’s incredible to see how our powerful business incentives are working in concert with our national labs to create high-tech jobs in our state,” Geisel said. “We’re going to continue fighting for the tools and reforms that are helping us create a healthier economy and so companies like these can thrive and lift our communities up.”
If the announcement is a reminder that these programs can bridge funding gaps for business and perhaps accelerate the hiring process, it’s also worth noting what really does create jobs in New Mexico: science, education, clean air and quality of life.
Though free money is always welcome by the business community, the jobs that are created from smart employees, private investment and new technology will flow regardless.