ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico finished a tumultuous 2020 with the 11th-highest unemployment rate in the country, according to a new set of federal numbers.
The state’s annual unemployment rate was 8.4% in 2020, up from 5% in 2019, according to a new data set from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Just 10 states posted higher rates than the Land of Enchantment in 2020, and New Mexico’s annual rate was higher than it’s been since the 1980s, according to BLS data.
Of course, that doesn’t account for the dramatic highs and lows that 2020 brought. New Mexico entered 2020 with an unemployment rate hovering around 5%, near its lowest point in a decade.
As COVID-19 spread across the United States last spring, the unemployment rate skyrocketed in New Mexico and across the country.
By July, New Mexico’s unemployment rate stood at 12.5%, the highest on record for a single month, according to BLS. By December, that figure had dropped to 8.2%, but remained above the national average, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.
Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley attributed New Mexico’s higher-than-average unemployment rate to the state’s high number of tourism and hospitality jobs, which were disproportionately impacted by the shutdowns.
“Obviously, when you have a worldwide pandemic that shuts down a lot of tourism globally, that’s going to affect us,” McCamley said.
McCamley acknowledged that the state-level shutdowns affected the unemployment rate, but said the safety of New Mexicans came first when dealing with the virus.
“Saving people’s lives has been the No. 1 priority here in New Mexico,” McCamley said.
Elsewhere in the Southwest, Arizona’s annual unemployment rate stood at 7.9%, Colorado’s was 7.3% and Texas’ stood at 7.6%, according to the BLS. The unemployment rate is based on a survey of recipients rather than a number of unemployment claims.
Looking ahead, McCamley said he is encouraged by New Mexico’s progress vaccinating residents and the dropping case levels, which he said will allow more types of businesses to open safely.
As the state begins to reopen, McCamley said the state workforce department’s work will transition from focusing on unemployment benefits to helping people rejoin the workforce successfully. He said the department is working on a series of tools, including a dedicated phone number and webpage to provide resources for New Mexicans looking for work.
In some cases, this will mean giving workers the tools they need to change careers. McCamley said the state workforce department is planning to expand its vocational training programs and work to promote existing offerings. A focus will be on industries – including construction, health care and STEM fields – that are expected to grow over the next decade.
“As you see those things start to open up, that’s when you start to see our plans go into effect,” McCamley said.
The 10 states with higher unemployment rates than New Mexico in 2020 were California, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.