El Paso County’s population grew by fewer than 700 people between 2021 and 2022, continuing a flattening trend that has extended for more than a decade, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released on Thursday.
El Paso County’s population was estimated at 868,763 on July 1, 2022, an increase of 677 from a year earlier, the Census Bureau reported. That’s an increase of less than one-tenth of a percentage point.
“The combination of net out-migration and lower natural increase has caused El Paso County population growth to roughly match that of the nation as a whole in recent years,” said Tom Fullerton, an economics professor at the University of Texas at El Paso. “While that is a marked change from what was historically the case in El Paso, there are many large metropolitan counties across the country that exhibit a similar dynamic or even lose population on an ongoing basis.”
Neighboring Doña Ana County, New Mexico, also saw little growth in the last year, adding just under 1,700 people to reach an estimated population of 223,337.
Texas’ population growth of 1.5% between 2021 and 2022 was almost 20 times faster than El Paso County. The national growth rate of 0.4% was five times El Paso County’s growth.
The figures released by the Census Bureau on Thursday are estimates based on local, federal and state data on subjects such as housing, births, deaths and change of address.
Four main factors are driving El Paso County’s population trend: a decline in births, a surge in deaths during the pandemic, slowing immigration from other countries, and the relentless flight of people leaving El Paso County for other U.S. locations.
Net migration – the difference between people moving to and from El Paso County and other U.S. counties – has long plagued El Paso, where average private sector wages are less than two-thirds of state and national averages.
Joe Hernandez, the owner of Hunter Automotive, which is also a U-Haul store near the Hunter Drive-Interstate 10 intersection, said that for the past several years the number of people renting equipment to move out of town easily surpasses the number of people who are returning equipment after moving into town.
“It is not even close,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t have enough equipment to rent because they pick it up here and they return it in another city. When I ask them why are they leaving, it’s the same answer — higher wages and better jobs.”
The net domestic loss of 4,000 people – more than 10 per day on average – was an increase over the 2,400 net loss between 2020 and 2021, according to census estimates.
“Net migration has generally been negative in recent years due to lower unemployment and higher wages in surrounding labor markets such as the Permian Basin, San Antonio, and Phoenix,” UTEP economist Fullerton said. “When the local jobless rate converges to the national average, then net migration turns positive.”
In the decade of the 2010s, El Paso County averaged a net domestic migration loss of almost 5,300 people per year, according to census records. In the 1990s, the net loss was almost 7,500 people per year.
Historically, El Paso County was able to offset the loss in people to other U.S. counties with large natural growth – the difference between births and deaths – and immigration from other countries.
In the 2010s, which produced El Paso’s slowest population growth rate in 80 years, El Paso added an average of 7,400 people annually by natural growth. In the 1990s, it was almost 12,000 people on average each year.
But El Paso added only 3,448 people via natural growth between 2021 and 2022, and 4,214 between 2020 and 2021, according to the Census Bureau.
The slowing rate of natural growth the past two years was driven by a huge spike in deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, and a slowing number of births.
Preliminary data from the Texas Department of State Health Services show El Paso County averaged almost 7,500 deaths among residents annually in the pandemic years of 2020 to 2022, a 34% increase over the average for 2017 to 2019, the three years preceding the pandemic.
The number of births to El Paso County residents averaged just over 11,000 between 2020 and 2022, according to state records, a 5% decline from the annual average between 2017 and 2019.
The number of births in El Paso County in recent years has dropped to levels not seen since the early 1980s, when the county had 350,000 fewer residents. El Paso County’s births peaked at 16,000 in the early 1990s and have generally been declining since.
The number of immigrants moving to El Paso also has slowed dramatically, according to census estimates.
El Paso County had a net gain in immigrant population of 1,500 between July 1, 2021, and the same day in 2022. Between July 1, 2020, and the same day in 2021, El Paso saw a net decrease of just over 100 immigrants – meaning more people moved from El Paso County to other countries than moved in during that period.
In the 2010s, El Paso County averaged a net increase of about 1,800 immigrants per year. In the 1990s, immigration added an average of almost 7,200 people annually to El Paso County’s population.
El Paso Matters editor Ramon Bracamontes contributed to this story.