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Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows the labor force has decreased since 2014, but the unemployment rate is lower

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FARMINGTON — A 24/7 Wall St. report released last week listed Farmington as one of the American cities losing the most jobs. Farmington is listed as number 19 on the list out of 25.

A city official said the report's findings should be taken with a grain of salt because the countywide numbers it documents between 2014 and 2019 represent a shift in the regional economy, but don't take into account efforts to revitalize that economy and some technological changes in the extraction industry that affect employment trends.

Like other articles by that organization, the report was actually referring to statistics that apply to the larger metropolitan statistical area — essentially San Juan County — rather than the actual City of Farmington.

Farmington Economic Development Director Warren Unsicker said the city is not dissuaded by the 24/7 Wall St. report.

More: Atlantic City, New Jersey, among the US cities losing the most jobs

“We still think there’s a lot on the horizon for the city and for the region and a lot of exciting things coming,” he said.

How did 24/7 Wall St. make its determination?

The 24/7 Wall St. report looked at the total employment from June 2014 until June 2019 in metropolitan statistical areas throughout the United States, as well as the total size of the labor force and the number of unemployed workers. These numbers came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It also looked at the median household income and educational attainment based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey.

During the time period 24/7 Wall St. examined, the Four Corners region was hit by a downturn in the energy industry, which contributed to the loss of jobs. That downturn led to a change in which companies are operating in the San Juan Basin.

The report highlights that San Juan County’s total employment was 3.1% lower in June 2019 than it was in June 2014, meanwhile the state employment grew by 5.6% in that time period.

Unemployment is going down in San Juan County

In June, the unemployment rate in San Juan County was 6.3%. Unemployment has dropped since June and was at about 5.2% in October, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We, have, obviously seen some declines, but the unemployment rate has been gradually going down,” Unsicker mentioned.

Unsicker said that is not a bad unemployment rate from an economic development perspective.

“If you have an unemployment rate that’s too low, you have trouble attracting new businesses,” he said.

According to Unsicker, an unemployment rate of 3 to 5% is ideal from an economic development perspective.

He said when he started working at Four Corners Economic Development about three years ago, the unemployment rate was closer to 7%.

While the county may have fewer people working today than it did in 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows unemployment has decreased since 2014. In June 2014, the unemployment rate in San Juan County, listed as Farmington metropolitan statistical area, was 7.3%.

San Juan County has lost jobs 

In June 2014, the total labor force in San Juan County was 56,088 and, of those people, 52,005 were employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Five years later, the labor force in June 2019 was 53,799 with 50,341 people employed.

Unsicker said there is no question that this area has lost jobs, but he said the report should be taken with a grain of salt.

During the last five years, the major oil and gas companies in the San Juan Basin have pulled out and been replaced with smaller, more locally-focused companies. These changes in ownership have often been accompanied by reductions in staff. Some of this is because of technology changes.

Farmington has been working to retain businesses, including the San Juan Generating Station, while also diversifying the economy and attracting a retirement community, Unsicker said.

Unsicker said the 24/7 Wall St. report depicts the evolution in Farmington’s economy.

“Without being on the ground and seeing the new things that are happening here, they can’t fully understand the scope of what we’re doing to change our economy,” he said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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