Data now available from the 2020 U.S. Census shows that Sierra County’s population decreased by 3.4 percent over the past decade, going from 11,988 in 2010 to 11,576 in 2020. The county has become somewhat more racially diverse, although not as diverse as the rest of the state or country. The budgetary impact of the loss of 412 residents could be about $1.2 million per year in decreased state and federal funding to the county.
The monetary figures come from former County Manager Bruce Swingle. During last year’s drive to maximize participation in the census by Sierra County’s residents, Swingle told the Sierra County Commission that every uncounted resident would result in a decrease in $3,000 in funding to the county every year until 2030, when the next census is taken. Charlene Webb, the current county manager, did not respond to the Sun’s requests that she confirm the extent of funding loss the county can expect and specify which departments are most likely to be affected.
Funding for many aspects of local government depend on the size of the population served. The U.S. Census, according to its website, “helps communities get [their] fair share for schools, hospitals, roads, and public works.” In addition, census results “inform how federal funding is allocated to more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grant programs for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.”
At the state level, funding is typically allocated to departments and branches, which then redistribute monies to counties through various mechanisms and sub-departments, according to a January 2021 report from New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center that analyzed the state’s county-by-county expenditures and distribution of revenues. Among the state departments whose reallocations to counties are based on population are Transportation, Tourism and Aging & Long-Term Services.
The first set of data released from the U.S. Census bureau included population figures for states and counties and also ethnic (Hispanic or non-Hispanic) and racial data of their residents.
The primary purpose of this data release was to determine how to distribute the 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives among the 50 states. New Mexico will retain the three seats that it has had since 1980, although the state legislature is expected to change the boundaries of each seat.
The data release also provide states with the information needed to make changes in the state legislative voting districts. This must be done so that each legislative district contains the same number of constituents.
In Sierra County, most of the change in the ethnic and racial makeup of the population was due to a decrease in the number of white residents and an increase in the number of people who identify as another race. Among those who identify ethnically as non-Hispanic, there was a decrease of 698 people who identify themselves as white and an increase of 327 people who identify as non-white. In contrast, the population of those who identify ethnically as Hispanic saw a small decrease of 41 persons.
Sierra County, like New Mexico and the United States as a whole, has become more diverse. The U.S. Census calculates a “Diversity Index” that is described as the “probability that two random people will be from different race and ethnicity groups.” The DI can vary between 0, if everyone in a region is the same race and ethnicity, and 100, if everyone is a different race or ethnicity. For Sierra County the DI has increased from 45 to 50. In comparison, the DI of the nation as a whole is 61; the DI of the State of New Mexico is 63.
In Sierra County, the biggest demographic change among the non-white, non-Hispanic population is the number of people who identify themselves as mixed race. The number of people in this category increased from 192 to 429. There was also a large increase in the number of people identifying as Asian, whose numbers grew from 49 to 119. The number of individuals who identify as Black increased from 44 to 70. The only racial group here that showed a decrease in population was Native Americans, whose numbers fell from 130 to 106.
Analysis by Investigate Midwest of 2020 Census data provided by the Census Co-Op through a collaboration with the Institute for Nonprofit News. Charts by Debora Nicoll