New Mexico unemployment rate drops to 4.5%

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New Mexico’s unemployment rate in July was 4.5% — down from 4.9% in June — but the state has struggled with a low labor force participation rate ‘work. (Jenny Kane/Associated Press)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico’s unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest since September 2008.

The state’s unemployment rate in July was 4.5%, according to a report from the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions. That’s down from 4.9% in June and down year-on-year from 7% in July 2021.

It’s also the second month in a row that the unemployment rate has fallen below 5% this year, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But New Mexico’s unemployment rate still trails nearly every other state in the country — it’s tied with Alaska — with only the District of Columbia having a higher unemployment rate, according to federal data.

The state has also struggled with a low labor force participation rate — the measure of working-age adults participating in the labor force or seeking employment. The DWS has focused on this issue, including establishing programs funded largely with federal funds and creating a model of outreach to non-working New Mexicans.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement Friday that the rate cut was a victory for the state.

“We continue to see substantial job growth in nearly every industry, from hospitality and retail to construction and manufacturing,” said Lujan Grisham. “As we continue to grow the state’s workforce by investing in free college and workforce training, creating more opportunities than ever for New Mexico families, the Our state’s economy will continue to improve.”

Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, disagreed with the governor’s boasts about low unemployment. In a statement, Baca pointed to an estimate from the University of New Mexico Office of Economics and Research outlined in a Legislative Finance Committee report on Wednesday that predicts slower economic growth for the state compared to the national average.

But New Mexico, according to federal data, saw a 3.7% increase in nonfarm employment from July 2021, which is good enough for the nation’s 11th spot.

“This is politics at its worst,” Baca said in a statement. “The real story here is that New Mexico has the highest unemployment rate of any state in the country, and according to analysts, we are currently on track for slower economic growth than national growth. “

The state report showed Bernalillo County’s rate was 4.2% in July. Santa Fe County had a rate of 4.1% and Doña Ana had a rate of 5%.

The largest gains occurred in the goods-producing sector, which saw a year-over-year increase of more than 10,000 jobs. In particular, the construction industry has seen an increase of 13.7%, or about 6,700 jobs, since the same period last year, according to the DWS report.

Jim Garcia, executive director of the Associated Contractors of New Mexico, said increases in the construction industry stem from relatively high pay and good benefits, and the ability to operate as an essential industry under guidelines. COVID strict earlier in the pandemic.

“So basically we’ve become a good place to work,” Garcia said. “It could be a lot of things, but, you know, you don’t have to have a degree to get into our industry and make a lot of money.”

Manufacturing saw an increase of 2,100 jobs year over year. Professional and business services – which fall under the services sector – saw an increase of 5,400 jobs, according to the report.

Still Hiring

Even with the unemployment rate falling, there is still a need for more workers across all industries, state officials have acknowledged. In fact, online job postings have exploded over the past year. More than 23,000 new jobs were advertised online in New Mexico compared to the same time last year, according to state records.

The construction industry is looking to market higher wages — he said jobs in the industry typically start at $20 an hour — and benefits for potential job seekers.

“We could use 5,000 more employees tomorrow,” he said. “There is a great need for it now and we are going to be an attractive future for a lot of people.”

Janna Christopher, director of clinical recruitment for Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said the hospital has seen an overall decline in applications through her office, which handles the hiring of registered nurses, physical therapists and other licensed clinicians.

It’s not just limited to Presbyterian, as health care providers across the state have struggled to hire and retain clinicians, some of whom have been spurred on by people leaving the health care industry. A 2021 report from the New Mexico Health Workforce Committee showed the state needed about 6,223 additional nurses to meet state benchmarks based on population.

“It’s tough in New Mexico because there weren’t a huge number of clinicians in the state, so we always took on that challenge,” Christopher said.

But Christopher said Presbyterian has focused on new graduates, investing in its nursing residency program “so we can really fill that void”.

The leisure and hospitality industry has also seen substantial growth over the past year. About 11,000 jobs have been added to this industry over the past year — the strongest growth in employment per headcount of any industry in the state, according to the report.

But Jim Long, CEO of Heritage Hotels & Resorts Inc. — which owns Sawmill Market, Hotel Chaco and a list of other New Mexico resorts — said that was largely because the hotel industry recovered more slowly than others. Her company has seen an increase of about 750 employees over the past year, and she continues to hire.

“I don’t see this being as much of a hiring spree as it is a return to normal,” Long said.

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