Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Last month, New Mexico posted its highest unemployment rate since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to new numbers from the state workforce department.
The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stood at 12.7% in July, a jump of more than 4% from the prior month, reversing a steady downward trend since April, when it stood at 11.3%.
State Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley said the main factor in the increase was not from more people seeking unemployment benefits in July, but from more unemployed New Mexicans starting to look for work again as temporary furloughs that began earlier in the pandemic started to be converted into layoffs.
“What you’re seeing now is people who may have been temporarily furloughed … now going out and looking for other possibilities,” McCamley said.
Metro Albuquerque’s unemployment rate came in at 13.1% in July. Elsewhere in the state, metro Santa Fe’s rate was 13.5%, Las Cruces’ stood at 13% and Farmington posted an unemployment rate of 16% in July, according to the state numbers.
McCamley said unemployment rate is based on survey data, rather than the total number of people filing for benefits.
Early in the pandemic, McCamley said, economists struggled to determine the true unemployment rate, due to the unique nature of short-term furloughs enacted in response to state restrictions on businesses. As more New Mexicans began looking to work, more were counted as unemployed rather than furloughed in survey data, McCamley said.
McCamley said a need for child care and a fear of contracting the virus at work also played into the high July unemployment numbers. These constraints forced unemployed New Mexicans to be selective in where they looked.
“You’re looking at a combination of things here,” McCamley said.
July also brought a spike in cases and a new round of restrictions on indoor dining and out-of-state visitors. Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Association of Commerce and Industry, said the closures were hard on restaurants and the suppliers they work with.
Coupled with federal loan programs beginning to expire or run low on funds, Black said many businesses started feeling a greater strain in July.
“I think a lot of those suppliers down the chain are starting to feel more of an impact,” Black said.
Overall, New Mexico shed 58,900 private-sector jobs and 11,200 public-sector jobs between July 2019 and July 2020, according to the state numbers.
Leisure and hospitality remained the hardest-hit sector in New Mexico, with a loss of 25,200 jobs, nearly 25% of jobs in the sector, during that period.
The mining, logging and construction sector – which includes the state’s oil and gas industry – shed 12.2% of jobs during the 12-month period. The manufacturing sector lost 8.3% of jobs during that same period.
McCamley said the state’s unemployment rate, the eighth-highest in the nation, highlighted the need for additional federal aid.