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Lower unemployment rate finally allows New Mexico to move up in national rankings


State ends 13-month reign in cellar with move up to 45th place

FARMINGTON — There was an abundance of good news for the state and the Farmington area in the August unemployment figures that were released late last week by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

New Mexico's jobless rate of 4.4% was down from the 4.5% revised rate in July, and it allowed the state to finally climb out of the cellar when it came to national rankings. New Mexico has had the highest unemployment rate of any state in the country or had been tied for that dubious distinction every month since June 2021 — a run of 13 straight months.

That streak finally came to an end in July, as New York now ranks last at 4.7%. In fact, Alaska (4.6%), Illinois and Delaware (both 4.5%) all had higher jobless rates than New Mexico, which is now tied for 45th with Nevada.

Minnesota had the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 1.9%.

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The news was even better as far as the Farmington Metropolitan Statistical Area was concerned. Even with the size of the labor force growing significantly — from 48,469 in July to 50,760 in August — joblessness fell from a revised rate of 5.6% a month earlier to 5.1% in August, the largest such decline of the state's four MSAs.

The Farmington area still ranks last among those four MSAs, but it continues to close the gap on the Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces areas. Santa Fe tops the list at 3.9%, while Albuquerque is second at 4.1% and Las Cruces is third at 4.6%. Those three metropolitan areas all saw the size of their labor force shrink in August from July, contributing to their lower unemployment rates.

A year ago, the jobless rate in the Farmington area was 8.3% — well behind that of Santa Fe (6.3%), Albuquerque (6.7%) and Las Cruces (6.8%).

The Farmington area's continued progress on whittling down its unemployment rate was welcome news for Lorenzo Reyes, San Juan College's vice president of workforce, economic and resource development. Reyes noted the county has seen small but steady decreases in its jobless rate over the last year and a half, and he believes that number potentially could continue to decline.

"There's still plenty of room (for further reductions)," he said.

Nevertheless, Reyes said the uncertain future of the San Juan Generating Station, which is scheduled to be shuttered this month, is likely to have an impact on that trend. The City of Farmington, which has partnered with Enchant Energy to explore the option of retrofitting the plant with carbon capture technology and keep it operating, is locked in a battle with the plant's current operator, the Public Service Co. of New Mexico, which plans to close it Sept. 30.

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Reyes said other energy sector businesses in the area are likely to monitor the outcome of that situation and may make decisions about the size of their work force based on how that turns out.

Elsewhere in the state, Luna County continues to have the highest jobless rate in New Mexico at 9%, although that number has dipped below double figures for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. McKinley and Cibola counties were next at 6.1%, while Torrance County was fourth at 6%. Sierra was fifth at 5.9%, while Taos and Lea counties tied for sixth at 5.6%, and Mora County was eighth at 5.5%. San Miguel County was ninth at 5.4%, Catron County was 10th at 5.3%, and Guadalupe and San Juan counties tied for 11th at 5.1%.

The unemployment rate of 2.2% in Los Alamos County was the state's lowest, down from 2.5% a month earlier.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription: http://bit.ly/2I6TU0e.