Where did they go?
Las Vegas and San Miguel County have fewer residents than 10 years ago, according to 2010 census figures released this week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Mora County, Wagon Mound and Pecos also saw a drop in their populations.
Indeed, many of New Mexico’s rural areas remained stagnant or lost population while the state’s urban areas like Rio Rancho grew during that period.
The state actually grew by more than 240,000 people over the past decade, with more than 2 million people living here.
Las Vegas, meanwhile, lost 812 people, or 5.6 percent of its population over the past decade. The Meadow City, which had a population of 14,565 in 2000, dropped to 13,753 in 2010.
San Miguel County lost 733 people. According to the Census Bureau, 29,393 people lived in San Miguel County in 2010.
The population decreases were enough to drop Las Vegas from the 12th largest city in New Mexico to No. 15. San Miguel County dropped from the 15th largest county in New Mexico to the 16th.
“I’m disappointed that so many people have moved out, but I’m not surprised,” Las Vegas Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said. Ortiz chalks up the population declines to the lack of economic development in the area.
Young people, he said, are leaving to find jobs because they can’t find anything locally.
“It’s a very significant shift,” Ortiz said. “As it is, we’re limited in population, so 800 people is a high percentage of the population we have in Las Vegas.”
David Salazar, chairman of the San Miguel County Commission said he was surprised by the census data.
“Maybe a lot of people just didn’t bother to fill in the census or something,” he said “I just can’t see that type of a loss.”
But if the county did lose population, Salazar said, it’s not a good sign.
“We’re going to have to work harder to get some economic development to the area so we can keep people here,” he said. Fewer people residing in Las Vegas and San Miguel
County likely translates into less in tax revenues that the city and county collect.
That’s a problem, given that those revenues are needed to pay for services like police, fire protection and solid waste.
Wagon Mound lost nearly 15 percent of its population, or 55 people. It’s population dropped from 369 to 314. Mora County’s population dropped from 5,180 in 2000 to 4,881 in 2010. That represents a 5.8 percent loss, or 299 people.
Pecos lost 3.4 percent of its population or 49 people. Its population was 1,392 in 2010.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.