Having joined the Union in 1912 as the 47th state, New Mexico today retains more of its pre-U.S. cultural heritage than almost any other state. In fact, its tenure as an American state still pales to its 250-year history as a colony of Spain (from 1598 to 1821) and later Mexico (from 1821 to 1848). Thanks to this robust Spanish heritage, the Land of Enchantment’s population is more than 46% Hispanic, the highest percentage in the nation, with another 9% identified as Native American, the third-highest percentage after Alaska and Oklahoma. 36% of New Mexicans speak a language other than English at home, which is second only to California, and the state is one of only four minority-majority states along with California, Hawaii and Texas.
As a result of all these things, this sparsely populated state – the fifth largest by land area, yet with just over two million residents total, the sixth lowest population density – can feel almost like another country. No wonder many Americans don't believe New Mexico, with its ancient pueblos and historic adobe homes, is part of the U.S. As a result of the continuing confusion, New Mexico Magazine runs a monthly humor column featuring stories of New Mexicans who have had to explain that they do not live in a foreign country – but rather in the U.S. state located in between Arizona and Texas - to all manner of baffled Americans.
Made famous by the painter Georgia O'Keefe, the extraordinary landscapes of New Mexico range from forested mountains to high desert and low desert terrain. Home to countless renowned artists then and now, the picturesque capital of Santa Fe, which celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2010, and charming small town of Taos draw millions of tourists annually to their galleries, museums and colonial plazas. They also come for the state’s nine ski resorts, including the premier ski destination of Taos Ski Valley. Another favorite of visitors is the state's unique New Mexican cuisine, incorporating blue corn, piñon nuts, sopapillas, carne adovada (pork cooked in red chile) and, most importantly, green chile. Fittingly, the state's official question is “red or green?,” referring to which type of chile one prefers on their dish. The locals’ answer? “Christmas,” meaning a combination of both.
While Hatch green chile and Chimayo red chile are the state’s signature crops, New Mexico’s top agricultural products include pecans, cattle and dairy products. Like many of its arid neighbors, the state is also rich in mineral deposits and extracts significant amounts of copper, uranium, perlite and salt. In addition, New Mexico is the seventh largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., and the fifth largest producer of crude oil, with 105,000 jobs and 30% of state revenue generated by these two industries. There are also still a few active mines for the beautiful turquoise used by Native Indian craftspeople in their world-famous jewelry.
New Mexico's wide-open desert environment and low population density make the state suitable for nuclear weapons research facilities, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where federal government scientists developed the atomic bomb, and the White Sands Proving Ground, where it was tested during and after World War II. Subsequently, the Sandia National Laboratory, another defense technology research installation, and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the country’s only nuclear waste disposal site, opened in New Mexico.
In addition to these defense subcontractors, the Kirtland Air Force Base, which includes the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and Air Force Research Laboratory, employs more than 23,000 people and covers 52,000 acres in Albuquerque, the state’s largest city with a metro area population over 900,000. Factoring in the many national parks, monuments, forests and other government-managed lands in New Mexico, which represent 40% of the state’s land area, the state's economy is the most dependent on federal spending of any in the U.S. As of 2015, New Mexico received $2.19 in federal spending for every $1 in taxes it sent to Washington – the fourth highest ratio in the nation - and ranked second in the country for the number of federal employees per 1,000 people.
Nevertheless, with not one Fortune 500 employer in the private sector, New Mexico remains a relatively poor state with the highest rate of unemployment in the country: 6.8% as of late 2015. As of early 2016, the median household income was $44,927 – placing the state in the 10 poorest nationwide - with more than 20% of New Mexicans living below the poverty line. Accordingly, the median home value was also relatively low at $159,069 – roughly $24,000 below the national median – while the median rental price was $889.
Thanks to its popularity with transplants, retirees and second home owners, Santa Fe had a much higher median home value as $274,993. Even higher is Los Alamos, with its heavy concentration of scientists and PhDs working at Los Alamos National Lab. The fourth wealthiest county in America according to the 2010 census, Los Alamos had a median home value of $298,639 in early 2016. A more affordable option, Albuquerque, ranked by MovieMaker as the fifth best big city to live and work in as a filmmaker in 2015, had a median home value of $186,360. The city’s thriving film industry is thanks in no small part to the award-winning television show Breaking Bad, as well as Albuquerque Studios, I-25 Studios and New Mexico’s longstanding film incentive program.