A WalletHub study of America’s “best states to live” ranked New Mexico dead last.
Pulled down by a poor education system, higher than average taxes, high crime, and one of the lowest average incomes in the nation, New Mexico was crowned the least livable state, behind Alaska, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
All of those factors are true — and we still don’t have a professional sports team — but the analysis fails to contextualize an important aspect of its study: there’s a difference between growing up in a state and moving to one.
Age, wealth, career status, and family composition are all important factors to consider when moving to another state. And for financially stable retirees with no dependents, New Mexico is an ideal place to live.
The weather is better than our neighbors to the east and west — with milder summers than Arizona and a fraction of Texas’ natural disasters — despite both states allegedly surpassing New Mexico in a rankin of WalletHub’s best states to retire.
Which means more than half the country has higher taxes, a higher cost of living, and higher housing prices.
It’s not quite Florida (which WalletHub ranked 14th), but it’s not Alaska either.
While New Mexico ranks last in education by most metrics, and no amount of “contextualizing” can change that fact, crime isn’t as clear cut. Most of the state’s crime is concentrated in Albuquerque. By comparison, Rio Rancho has about a fifth the population but its violent crime rate is a fraction of Albuquerque’s.
And despite attracting big-name industry leaders like Facebook, Intel, and Netflix, only one of those job creators are within Albuquerque city limits. Statewide, job opportunities are limited, and with the exception of military bases and national labs, few are high paying. In fact, the state’s already low average income would be even lower without Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories padding both education and salary statistics.
That said, as careers move online in the post-COVID era, the location of the worker matters less than the whether or not the employee has the skills required to do the job.
Which brings us back to the original point: that New Mexico may not statistically be an ideal place to grow up or get an education, but it’s definitely not the worst place to move to as an adult.
Is this a semantic argument? Partially, yes.
The premise of the WalletHub analysis was to find the best places to live in America. That framework is based on “deciding” where to live. Either the person doing the deciding doesn’t live in America or they’re American but old enough to pick up and move, in which case it’s demographics (age, wealth, career status, family composition) that determines the weight of each “livability” factor that WalletHub considered.
Overall, the study isn’t good news for New Mexicans with families trying to raise children to live productive and fulfilling lives, but saying blaming all of New Mexico for the sins of its biggest city is like saying Illinois is full of murderers when its homicides are largely concentrated in Chicago.
The fact is, there is more to New Mexico than Albuquerque, and in fact the best of the state is outside its population hub.
To WalletHub’s credit, “livability” isn’t a metric of “here and now” so much as generational success. Most people don’t move every 20 years based on an economic analysis of the best places to live. They move for opportunity, for better jobs and good schools, for generational longevity.
Weighed down by Albuquerque, the state as a whole doesn’t offer much. On paper, we are attractive as a retirement community and little else. But if you can read between the lines, New Mexico offers space, peace, and natural beauty that average Americans can afford.
The trick is getting out of Albuquerque, away from big city crime, and beyond the reach of a broken education system.
With a 57% increase in median housing costs nationwide, there may be no better time than now to sell your house and move out of the city.
Like Illinois or Maryland, New Mexico’s fate is tied to its biggest city. Whether we can shake the reputation of being an economic and educational failure largely depends on Albuquerque.
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