New Mexico's jobless rate ties for highest in nine-state region

Unemployment in state remains stubbornly high

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — With an unemployment rate of 8.3% in March, New Mexico has sunk to the bottom of the nine-state Southwest region, tied with California for the highest percentage of jobless workers.

The monthly Labor Market Review produced by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions on April 23 reveals that the state's efforts to emerge from the COVID-19-induced recession are trailing those of other states in the region. New Mexico's unemployment rate has improved slightly since rising to 8.7% in January, but it has fallen behind its neighboring states since ranking sixth in the region in December.

Utah has the lowest unemployment rate in the region at 2.9%, followed by Oklahoma (4.2%), Wyoming (5.3%), Colorado (6.4%), Arizona (6.7%), Texas (6.9%) and Nevada (8.1%). California and New Mexico tied for eighth.

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Those two states also ranked near the bottom in percentage of jobs lost since this time last year at 7.7%. Only Nevada was worse off at 9.5%.

New Mexico's unemployment rate has seen considerable fluctuation over the last year, going from a rate of 5.4% in March 2020 to 11.3% in April 2020, shortly after the pandemic began. It inched down for much of last year, reaching 7.5% in November. But it began to climb again at the end of 2020 and has remained stubbornly high since then, even as surrounding states and the rest of the country have seen their jobless rate fall.

The U.S. unemployment rate for March was 6%.

The monthly review also offers an in-depth look at unemployment among New Mexico's younger workers, although those figures are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2015-2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates and do not reflect what has happened since the pandemic began.

San Juan County ranks in the bottom half of the state's counties in many of the metrics, although it was close to the statewide average. In the category of percentage of people ages 20 to 24 who were unemployed, San Juan County posted a figure of 11.4%, only slightly higher than the statewide average of 10.7%.

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Mora County had the worst showing at 53.3%. The national average was 9.6%.

Among out-of-school people ages 16 to 19 who were not in the labor force, San Juan County's showing was 58.6%, compared to 51% for New Mexico as a whole. Catron County trailed the field at 100%, while the national figure was 46.1%.

In the category of people ages 16 to 19 who were in school and employed, San Juan County's figure of 18.7% also trailed the state (25%) and nation (28.2%).

And in the category of education attainment among people ages 18 to 24, San Juan County's rate of 22.1% for those with no high school diploma was the sixth-worst figure in New Mexico. De Baca County was the worst at 41.9%, while the statewide average was 16.7%. It was only 12.6% for the nation.

At the other end of the spectrum, the county's rate of 9.6% of people ages 18 to 24 with an associate degree or higher was closer to the middle of the pack. A total of 14 counties fared worse, while the statewide average was 11.5%. The U.S. average was 16.6%.

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