Worst job market in the nation? Maybe not
LAS CRUCES - The website WalletHub recently reported that the job market in Las Cruces is the worst in the United States among 182 cities studied.
But is that true?
While WalletHub said in its "2019 Best Cities for Jobs" report that Las Cruces is the 181st best overall, a separate ranking within its report said that the city's job market ranks 182nd, dead last. The overall ranking combines the job market score and a socieconomic score.
But a closer examination of WalletHub's report and the numbers behind it raise questions about its validity.
WalletHub used 20 measures to create its job market rankings, but the report doesn’t provide the data, which makes it difficult for readers to fact check its claims. The report includes a long list of sources, but only the most general information about them, which also makes it hard to verify what it says.
Some of the measures WalletHub used to establish its rankings are subjective, such as workplace satisfaction and share of engaged workers, and the report doesn’t say what they’re based upon.
Asked for its data about Las Cruces, WalletHub provided a simple chart, but some of the numbers in it are dated or incorrect. It lists a higher unemployment rate than Las Cruces has and says the city has lost jobs, when the opposite is true. The chart does not provide the dates or sources for the data, a serious flaw in any data-based research.
The chart also includes several categories that aren’t explained and other categories are left blank. It claims that Las Cruces has a minus 5 percent underemployment rate, but doesn’t say what that means. It says the city has an industry variety of 4.85 percent, but doesn’t explain that number either.
Categories for employment outlook and job satisfaction, both considered in its job market rankings, are blank for Las Cruces. Six other categories used for other rankings are also blank. The problems with the chart make WalletHub’s rankings look even more dubious than they appeared in the report published online.
The job market in Las Cruces, by most standard employment measures, isn’t great, but it doesn’t appear to be the worst in the country either.
The unemployment rate in the Las Cruces metro area, which includes all of Doña Ana County, was 5.3 percent in November 2018, but that rate is considered by economists to be normal and healthy. The national rate was 3.5 percent.
The Las Cruces jobless rate ranked 358th in the country, but 26 metro areas had lower unemployment rates. El Centro, California, which had the nation’s worst jobless rate, had a rate more than three times higher than Las Cruces.
Las Cruces has also seen its unemployment rate drop significantly. The jobless rate fell from 6.3 percent in November 2017 to 5.3 percent a year later. That percentage point drop was the 35th best in the country, which demonstrates comparatively strong improvement.
The unemployment rate has limitations as a measure of the quality of the job market. It doesn’t include, for example, people who have become so frustrated in their inability to find work that they’ve stopped looking. For that reason, labor economists also consider other measures.
One such measure is the employment-population ratio, which calculates the percentage of the working-age population, 16 to 64 years old, that is working. Las Cruces in 2017 had an employment-population ratio of 50.3 percent, hardly admirable, but not the worst in the country either. Thirty-eight metro areas had lower rates.
Las Cruces has also experienced modest job growth recently, which is good news. Employment grew 0.7 percent from November 2017 to November 2018. That might not be robust growth but it’s better than in 36 metro areas that saw a loss of jobs during the same period.
Earnings in Las Cruces are low compared to other metro areas, but not the worst. Non-farm workers in Las Cruces in November 2018 earned an average of $650 per week. Average weekly earnings were lower in 31 metro areas.
In January, the city of Las Cruces increased its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, the second highest rate in New Mexico, after Santa Fe.
The bottom line? The employment picture in Las Cruces isn’t rosy, but it’s not quite as dismal as WalletHub portrayed either.
The city of Las Cruces, meanwhile, issued a news release in response to the WalletHub report. Economic development director Phil San Filippo said, "We are working on many different levels to stimulate job opportunities."