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Jobless rate falls in February for New Mexico; Farmington MSA still has highest in state


Easing of business restrictions could cause rate to tumble

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  • New Mexico's unemployment rate for February was 8.3%, down from January's figure of 8.7%.
  • That marked the first monthly decline in the jobless rate in the state since November 2020.
  • The U.S. unemployment rate for February was 6.2%, down only slightly from the 6.3% rate in January.

FARMINGTON — The state finally saw some improvement in its unemployment rate for February, according to figures released last week by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, but its percentage of people without a job remains higher than the national number.

New Mexico's unemployment rate for February was 8.3%, down from January's figure of 8.7%. That marked the first monthly decline in the jobless rate in the state since November 2020, when the rate fell to 7.5% from the 8.1% rate posted during the preceding month. The February rate was still much higher than the February 2020 rate of 5.3% in New Mexico.

The U.S. unemployment rate for February was 6.2%, down only slightly from the 6.3% rate in January. The February 2020 figure was 3.5%.

The jobless rate for the Farmington Metropolitan Statistical Area showed some improvement, as well, declining from January's rate of 11% to 10% in February. But that figure remains the highest among the state's four MSAs, with the Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe MSAs all coming in at between 7.7% and 7.9%.

Unemployment figures : Analysis shows mixed news for New Mexico

The jobless rate for Farmington in February 2020 was 6.3%.

The Farmington MSA continues to see the size of its work force shrink. State figures showed a labor force of 49,958 people for the Farmington MSA for February, down more than 400 people since January and a decline of nearly 2,000 workers from that time last year.

The improvement in the February figures, while slight, could be a sign of better things to come for the state and the Farmington area. The COVID-19 transmission rate began declining rapidly during that time, leading to a loosening of operating restrictions on businesses and perhaps providing for an increase in hiring.

San Juan County, for instance, moved rapidly up the state's four-tier, color-coded system for business restrictions over the past several weeks, climbing from Red to Yellow in late February, Yellow to Green in the middle of March and Green to Turquoise last week. That allowed it to advance from the most-restrictive category to the least-restrictive category in a month and led some local officials to predict many merchants — especially restaurant owners — would have trouble finding enough employees to adequately staff their business.

Others are reading: Officials celebrate news of county's move to Turquoise Level, but fear hiring crunch

But in February, at least, San Juan County remained mired near the bottom of the state's counties in terms of getting people working again. Only five counties scattered across the state had a jobless rate higher than San Juan County's 10% — Luna (17.7%), Lea (11.8), Taos (11.1%), McKinley (11%) and Cibola (10.9%).

As usual, Los Alamos County, home of Los Alamos National Laboratory, had the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.3%. It was followed by Union County at 4.6%, Harding County at 4.7% and De Baca County at 5.1%.

New Mexico continued to rank near the bottom of the nine-state southwest region for its jobless rate before the February figures were released, according to the New Mexico Labor Market Review published by the Department of Workforce Solutions. Its 8.7% jobless rate was the second highest in the region, trailing only California's 9% rate.

MORE: US jobless claims fall to 684,000, fewest since pandemic

Utah had the lowest rate at 3.1%, followed by Oklahoma at 4.3%, Wyoming at 5.1%, Colorado at 6.6%, Arizona at 6.7%, Texas at 6.8% and Nevada at 8.1%.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.