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NM has nation’s highest unemployment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico had the highest unemployment rate in the nation in November, while growth in the number of new jobs in the state was flat, according to labor figures released Friday.

The state’s rate of 6.8 percent for November was unchanged from the month before, but New Mexico’s failure to improve pushed it to the No. 1 spot, according to the new figures. Last month, West Virginia held the No. 1 title, but its figures have since improved.

Nationwide, the economy generated a robust 211,000 jobs last month, and the U.S. unemployment rate remained at 5 percent, a 7-year low, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

The rate fell in more than half of U.S. states in November as employers stepped up hiring.

As for job growth, New Mexico added 3,000 jobs last month, a 0.4 percent increase over the same month a year ago. That growth rate is unchanged from October.

And that is reason for concern, said Jeffrey Mitchell, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico.

Up until June of this year, “we were adding jobs at a pretty good clip statewide,” he said. “Since July, the rate of growth has been ticking down statewide.”

Joy Forehand, deputy secretary of the state Department of Workforce Solutions said, “The recent unemployment figures highlight why it’s so important that we continue to grow and diversify our economy in New Mexico.”

“While it’s encouraging that we have now had our 39th month of over-the-year job growth, it’s clear that declining oil and gas prices worldwide have had an impact on New Mexico’s workforce.”

The monthslong statewide slowdown is not just limited to the mining and oil and gas sector, which has been hard hit by the sharp decline in global oil prices. November figures show that sector lost about 2,900 jobs, or 10.1 percent. Also losing jobs were manufacturing and transportation, wholesale trade, construction and information-related sectors.

The industry with the largest and fastest over-the-year employment growth last month was leisure and hospitality, which was up 3,100 jobs, or 3.5 percent.

“We need to take these numbers seriously,” said Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. “These kind of numbers do not appear in places that have foundations of a strong economy.”

Cole said the labor figures show a continued need for reforms such as right-to-work legislation and tax reductions for small businesses.

“We will be working very hard to improve our regulatory attitudes and practices to create a comprehensive tax and incentive environment, to create a strong workforce pipeline and to be aggressive about developing our key economic strengths,” Cole said. Those, she said, are tourism, energy, high tech and trade and exports.

One bright spot in the state’s economic picture was the Albuquerque area, where employment grew by 1.9 percent over the year, adding 7,200 jobs. The Las Cruces area, meanwhile, saw total nonfarm employment fall by 1,500 jobs, or 2.1 percent.

Forehand said her department “has released an additional $125,000 in job-training funds to support unemployed workers in San Juan County and is working to identify where other training dollars may be needed.”