ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — More than 17,000 New Mexico residents filed initial unemployment claims last week, nearly 2% of the state’s total labor force.
The U.S. Department of Labor released unemployment claim data Thursday morning between March 15 and March 21.
During that time, 17,187 New Mexicans filed initial claims, compared to 869 during the prior seven-day period. Nationwide, 2.9 million Americans filed unemployment claims. Adjusted for seasonality, the total was 3.3 million, roughly five times the prior record set in 1982, according to the labor department.
While the numbers are stark, Jim Peach, a professor of economics at New Mexico State University, said there is reason to believe worse could be on the horizon for New Mexico.
“None of us know where this is headed,” Peach said. “We all know we’re not at the peak of this yet.”
The spike in unemployment claims comes as New Mexico and other states have ordered bars, restaurants and other businesses to temporarily close to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered the closure of all “non-essential” businesses statewide.
The mandated closures prompted business owners ranging from chain clothing stores to local restaurants to lay off employees. Given that the order came after March 21, however, the full impact of the closure won’t be known until additional data is available.
Peach said it’s likely many early job losses are concentrated in the leisure and hospitality sector.
However, as the effects of the partial shutdowns in New Mexico and other states become more apparent, Peach said the virus could cause layoffs in a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, which has already been hammered by a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
“I’d guess, with the next month or two, we’ll lose a third of the oil and gas workers,” Peach said. “That may be too optimistic.”
The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions is encouraging New Mexico residents who are filing for unemployment to do so online, which should make it easier for the state to respond quickly. Those interested in filing a claim can do so at https://www.dws.state.nm.us/COVID-19-Info
The state workforce department also announced earlier this week it will not be charging employers for benefits paid out to claimants on claims made after March 16, due to the spike in claims and concerns from employers.