Jobless rate climbs again for New Mexico, San Juan County in January

State unemployment figures lag behind national rate

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
  • New Mexico's unemployment rate increased slightly from December to January.
  • The jobless rate in the Farmington MSA was the worst in the state.
  • The size of the labor force in the Farmington MSA declined by more than 1,600 people.

FARMINGTON — Despite the recent easing of COVID-19 restrictions across many parts of the state, the unemployment figures for New Mexico as a whole and for San Juan County continue to worsen.

Statistics released March 15 by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions showed the state's jobless rate increased only slightly from 8.6% in December to 8.7% in January. But unemployment was much worse in the Farmington Metropolitan Statistical Area, going from 9.7% in December to 10.9% in January. That was the highest rate of the state's four MSAs, with the other three — Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces — all reporting a jobless rate of 8.6%.

The January numbers marked another month-over-month increase in the jobless rate for the state. The November figure of 7.5% was less than the 8.1% rate posted in October, but since then, unemployment has increased each month.

New Mexico's figures stood in contrast to what is happening nationally. The U.S. jobless rate for January was 6.3%, down from 6.7% in December. But that rate was much higher than the 3.5% national rate that prevailed in January 2020.

The figures also reflect the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the state and local economy. New Mexico's jobless rate was only 5.1% in January 2020, while the figure for the Farmington MSA then was only 6.4%.

If there is a silver lining in the figures, it is that they reflect the unemployment situation from two months ago, not what has happened in recent weeks as many counties have made progress on the state's four-tier system of business restrictions that are tied to the virus transmission rate. Over the last month, for instance, San Juan County has advanced from the Red Level, the most-restrictive tier, to the Green Level, the second-least restrictive tier, allowing many businesses to increase their level of engagement with customers and perhaps spurring some merchants to rehire laid-off employees.

Nor do those figures include the effects of recent price surges in the oil and natural gas sectors, a development that bodes well for the state as a whole and San Juan County in particular, given the local reliance on energy-related industries.

Still, the news indicates that the road to recovery for some parts of the state will be long. San Juan County's 10.9% unemployment rate was not the worst in the state — that grim distinction belonged to Luna County at 17.7% — but it wasn't far from the bottom. Other counties that are faring poorly on the jobless front are Lea (13%), McKinley (12%), and Cibola and Taos (11.9%) counties.

In all, nine counties in New Mexico are experiencing a jobless rate in the double digits. At the other end of the spectrum, tiny Los Alamos County — home to Los Alamos National Laboratory — once again had the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.6%.

Another figure of concern for the Farmington MSA is the continued reduction in the size of the area's labor force. In January 2020, that number stood at 51,643 people. A year later, it was counted at 49,929 — a decrease of more than 1,600 workers and further evidence of the number of people who have stopped looking for work or who have relocated.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.