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The number of El Paso children declines sharply

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The number of children living in El Paso County declined by more than 20,000 between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Census Bureau will be releasing more detailed age data later this month, but the numbers currently available — for the population 18 and older, and the population younger than 18 — paint a stark picture. The number of children in El Paso County declined by 8% between 2010 and 2020 after increasing by 11% between 2000 and 2010.

By contrast, the number of El Paso County adults — those age 18 and older — grew by more than 85,000 between 2010 and 2020. The adult growth rate of 15% was down from 21% between the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

The combination of a growing adult population and shrinking child population means that children now make up a much smaller portion of El Paso County. Children accounted for one in every three El Pasoans in the 2000 census. In 2020, children were one of every four El Pasoans.

School enrollment in El Paso County — another measure of the childhood population — has been declining for the previous decade. El Paso County enrollment in 2019-20, the last school year that started before the pandemic, was about 8,500 students fewer than in 2011-12. More than 7,000 of the decline was in kindergarten through third grade, a sign that enrollment declines were likely to continue for years.

A number of factors likely are driving the decline in the number of children in El Paso County.

Women of child-bearing age are having fewer children across the United States. That is true for Hispanics, who make up the vast majority of women of child-bearing age in El Paso County.

Also, El Paso has a steep net loss in what demographers call domestic migration — people moving from one U.S. county to another. The Census Bureau estimates that 55,000 more people moved out of El Paso than into the county between 2000 and 2010

Adults under age 40 are much more likely to move than those over 40. So it’s likely that most of that net migration loss in El Paso was among young adults and their families.

The impacts of declining childhood population will be widespread, but will be most notable in schools. Fewer children means fewer jobs for teachers and other education professionals, for example. UTEP, which relies heavily on students from El Paso County, will have to increasingly recruit from outside El Paso to avoid sharp enrollment declines over the next decade. And fewer children could mean fewer available workers in coming years as older El Pasoans retire.

Cover photo: Students at Sierra Vista Elementary School in East El Paso participate in a campus rally in September 2019. (Photo courtesy of Socorro Independent School District)

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Robert Moore

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986. His work has received a number of top journalism honors including the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist and the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award. Moore’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, Texas Monthly, ProPublica, National Public Radio, The Guardian and other publications. He has been featured as an expert on border issues by CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBC and PBS.

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