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A recent article in “Governing” magazine indicates that most U.S. counties are rural, and recent U.S. Census estimates indicate the majority of them are losing population. Two-thirds of counties that the Census considers majority-rural, based on population density, lost residents last year.
Archuleta County is no exception.
Our net population growth was negative over the last two years, although barely. We’ve lost 14 residents over that time, going from 12,084 in 2010 to 12,070 in 2012 — a decrease of 0.12 percent.
At this point, Archuleta County’s shrinking population results from net migration — more people are moving out than are moving into the county. So net migration is responsible for a reduction in population of 94 over the last two years.
Archuleta County has not quite reached a “tipping point” where we begin to lose residents at a more rapid rate, but as of 2012, we are very close to it in the near future. Our median age is 48.4 and predicted to grow to 50.1 by 2016 according to estimates from ESRI, a GIS analytic toolset for economic developers. Older residents will predictably have fertility rates lower than other demographic groups, so death rates will begin to exceed birth rates.
Adding to the impact of the aging factor, since 2000, the percent of Archuleta County’s population under the age of 44 has dropped significantly, even while the percent of residents 45 years and older has risen.
It is easy to understand why our older population is increasing. First, there is the natural aging of folks already here, but new retirees are also moving in. Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County are a great place to retire — but only if you’ve made your living and accumulated your wealth elsewhere.
But why are our younger residents leaving? Easy to understand: very few good jobs are available in our community. Steady, good-paying, year-round jobs that they can count on to help rear a family are few and far between here. So, they move away, even to nearby Durango where so many more opportunities abound. Durango had a net population growth of 522 over the same two years when we lost 94 residents.
A job is not just a roof over your head and food on your table; it’s your health care, your kids’ education and your retirement. Jobs are important.
That’s why I believe economic development is important for Archuleta County. What is economic development? It is job creation, job retention and tax base enhancement — quality of life. Quality of life begins with a good job.
I believe our quality of life is largely determined by community wealth — both public and private, as well as by retaining our youth who enrich, enliven our community and keep it vibrant.