ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After several months of consistent declines, New Mexico’s unemployment rate rose a full percentage point in December.
New Mexico’s preliminary unemployment rate reached 8.2% in December, up from a revised figure of 7.2% in November, according to new figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to the data, just four states posted higher unemployment rates in December. New Mexico also saw the fifth-largest month-to-month increase.
The uptick in unemployment comes after New Mexico announced another round of restrictions on businesses in late November, designed to help limit the spread of COVID-19. While Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley acknowledged the lockdowns may have had an impact, he said it’s worth taking monthly updates with a grain of salt, noting that the pandemic is causing numbers to vary more than usual.
“We’re trying to come up with a whole new understanding of how we measure these things,” McCamley said.
McCamley said the unemployment rate, which is based on a survey of recipients rather than on new unemployment claims, struggles to take into account how many people aren’t looking for work because of the pandemic or other factors. Employment data also changes quickly month to month.
“As of now, our experts are saying to just be a little careful using that as any kind of gospel,” he said.
Still, the December increase was the largest uptick since the state unemployment rate hit 12.7% in July. The figure has steadily declined since then, though it has stayed persistently higher than the national average.
New Mexico shed 62,600 private sector jobs year over year in December, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. Leisure and hospitality remained the state’s hardest-hit sector in December, with 29,100 jobs lost over the previous 12 months.
Metro Albuquerque posted an unemployment rate of 7.3% in December, while metro Santa Fe’s unemployment rate was 7.2%, according to data from the state.
McCamley said the overall number of people receiving unemployment benefits is actually declining, which he said is a sign that the state’s unemployment situation may be looking up.
“We’re thinking that number is probably, for our intents and purposes, a little bit more accurate,” he said.
After a long wait, McCamley said the state has received additional guidance from the federal government regarding a slate of new and renewed unemployment programs signed into law in December.
Beginning on Feb. 7, eligible claimants will be able to reopen inactive claims for various federal programs that expired at the end of 2020, backdated to the week of Jan. 2. McCamley said the department will release more information about the new round of programs next week.
“We have to follow the rules that the federal government puts out regarding these programs,” McCamley said. “… If we don’t do that, they can take money away from us.”