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New Mexico’s unemployment rate has dropped to the lowest it has been since September 2008.
The unemployment rate for the state in July stood at 4.5%, according to a report from the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions. That’s a drop from 4.9% in June and a year-over-year decrease from 7% in July 2021.
It also marks the second month in a row the unemployment rate has come in below 5% this year, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But New Mexico’s unemployment rate still trails nearly all other states across the country – it is tied with Alaska – with only the District of Columbia having a higher rate of unemployment, according to federal data.
The state has also struggled with a low workforce participation rate – the measurement of working-aged adults that are participating in the labor force or are looking for a job. DWS has been focusing on that issue, particularly by setting up programs funded largely by federal dollars and creating a template for outreach to non-working New Mexicans.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in a statement on Friday said the lower rate is a win for the state.
“We continue to see substantial job growth in nearly every sector, from hospitality and retail to construction and manufacturing,” Lujan Grisham said. “As we continue to expand the state’s workforce by investing in free college and workforce training, creating more opportunities than ever for New Mexico families, our state’s economy is going to continue to improve.”
Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, didn’t agree with the governor’s touting of the low unemployment rate. In a statement, Baca pointed to a University of New Mexico Bureau of Business and Economic Research estimate 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, has seen a 3.7% increase in nonfarm employment from July 2021, good enough for 11th place in the country.
“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 to experience slower than national economic growth.”
The state report showed Bernalillo County’s rate standing at 4.2% in July. Santa Fe County had a rate of 4.1% and Doña Ana had a rate of 5%.
The largest gains came in the goods-producing sector, which saw an increase of more than 10,000 jobs year over year. In particular, the construction industry saw an increase of 13.7%, or about 6,700 jobs, since the same time last year, according to the DWS report.
Jim Garcia, executive director for the Associated Contractors of New Mexico, said the increases in the construction industry stem from relatively high pay and good benefits, and from being able to operate as an essential industry under strict COVID guidelines earlier in the pandemic.
“So essentially, we became 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 in 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 service-providing sector – saw an increase of 5,400 jobs, according to the report.
Even with the unemployment rate dropping, there is still a need for more workers across all industries, state officials have acknowledged. In fact, online job postings have soared over the past year. More than 23,000 new jobs were advertised online in New Mexico than the same time last year, state records show.
The construction industry is looking to market higher pay – he said jobs in the industry typically start at $20 an hour – and benefits to prospective job seekers.
“We could use 5,000 more employees tomorrow,” he said. “There’s a heavy need for it now and we’re 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 decrease in the number of applications through her office, which handles the hiring of registered nurses, physical therapists and other licensed clinicians.
That isn’t limited to Presbyterian, as health care providers across the state have struggled with hiring and retaining clinicians, some of which has been boosted by people leaving the health care industry. A 2021 report from the New Mexico Health Care Workforce Committee showed the state needed about 6,223 more nurses to hit benchmarks for the state based on population.
“It’s hard in New Mexico because there was not an extensive number of clinicians in the state, so we’ve always battled that challenge,” Christopher said.
But Christopher said Presbyterian has shifted its focus on new graduates, investing in its nursing residency program “so that we can really fill that void.”
The leisure and hospitality industry also saw substantial growth over the past year. About 11,000 jobs have been added to that industry over the past year – the largest growth in employment by headcount of all industries across the state, according to the report.
But Jim Long, the CEO of Heritage Hotels & Resorts Inc. – which owns Sawmill Market, Hotel Chaco and a list of other resorts across New Mexico – said that is largely due to the hospitality industry recovering slower than others. His company has seen an increase of about 750 employees in the past year, and it is still hiring.
“I don’t see it is a hiring frenzy as much as just getting back to normalcy,” Long said.