Friday, October 23, 2015

The Great New Mexico Downsizing (Continued) 

This column also appeared in the ABQ Free Press.

The downsizing of New Mexico continues, with the latest jolt coming from our Harvard on the Rio Grande. The University of New Mexico will not fill up to 100 positions in coming months because of a crash in student enrollment and the resulting decline in tuition.

Some of the decline is explained by a higher than normal  enrollment during the recession and a reduction now that the job market has improved. But then there's this from the nonprofit Hechinger Report.

Only 38 percent of adults in Albuquerque have college degrees, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, far lower than the proportions in what the city considers its economic competitors, such as Austin (48 percent), Seattle (49 percent), and Silicon Valley (55 percent). More than half the population is Hispanic or Native American, groups with traditionally low rates of college-going and with high levels of poverty; a quarter of Hispanic adults in Albuquerque never finished high school. That leaves them ill-equipped to help their children navigate the complicated path to college.

The Lobo Wolf is bleeding badly. Besides shrinking its workforce UNM's budget for the next year will remain flat, another rarity that reveals the depth of the economic stagnation and out migration  that has gripped our state for well over five years. The bloat at UNM, easily concealed in the boom years, is now bursting. Put another way, the wolf is at the door of not only UNM but the state as a whole.

Prior to the onset of the 2008 Recession/Depression/Stagnation. the state budget was running enormous annual surpluses, sometimes in the $400 million area. The money, among other things, was rebated to taxpayers and spent on more state government employment and pork projects. It was not used to address our soft underbelly of an unprepared work force, a troubled public school system and a widening social conditions crisis.

New Mexico was sorely unprepared for rapid globalization and increased competition and has largely been dealt out of the new economy. The cutbacks in federal spending, a chief source of the state's prosperity, was the death knell for an era of economic expansion that began with WWII and proceeded with barely a hiccup for over 60 years.

With the state's workforce unprepared for the specialized jobs of the global economy--and those that are leaving for Austin, Denver and other cities where those jobs are plentiful--New Mexico is transitioning to a lower income, service economy which can provide jobs for a non-college educated workforce (think of the local brewery explosion). It's happening elsewhere but is much more pronounced here because of the state's long-standing poverty, especially among Native American and Hispanic families which comprise the majority of the population.

New Mexico needs massive investment but is getting only a trickle from today's policy makers. Tax cuts, regulation reduction and business relocation incentives continue to dominate the agenda, even as the state is repeatedly rejected by business because of its school problems, crime and poverty and the state's seeming lack of commitment to improvement.

While the stagnation continues the state's giant Land Grant Permanent Fund (also known as the Permanent School Fund), is reaching the immense sum of $15 billion as it gushes with oil and gas royalties and stock market gains. The fund annually spins off millions that help finance education. However, efforts to dedicate a small portion of it to begin the long, arduous process of instilling the next generation with the educational and life skills to tackle the jobs of the future, meets stern resistance.

Policy makers now frequently mention attracting an older, retired population to the state with whom gentle weather is more of a concern than jobs and where gated, affluent enclaves can keep the elders protected from the more sordid side of the city and state. They don't talk much anymore about attracting those in their prime working years of 25 to 54 or keeping the Millennials who flee.

As journalist Wally Gordon wrote in his review of the book "New Mexico 2050":

. . . This state is in a world of hurt. Its laid-back attitude of letting oil, natural gas and the federal government carry it along on a rising tide is failing, as almost every expert knew it would sooner or later, and political and government leaders are making no effort to create a new economy, let alone a new state.  So what you see now, may, alas, be what you will get.

"New Mexico 2050" is published by UNM Press and is edited by former Senator Fred Harris.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2014. Not for reproduction without permission of the author
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