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New Mexico Has the Highest Unemployment Rate in the Nation

In January, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 5.9 percent, nearly two percentage points higher than the national average. However, nonagricultural employment in the state grew by about 6 percent compared to the year prior.

(TNS) — It's a Thursday morning and La Quiche Parisienne Bistro owner Bruno Barachin is baking pastries and quiche to stock his shelves for customers looking to grab a bite.

Customers are flooding into the Northeast Heights eatery and one employee is working the register and waiting tables.

Barachin is having a hard time finding workers — he says he needs a new cook, a dishwasher and two more servers — even despite offering between $12 and $16 an hour.

"Some people stay one day, two days and then quit," Barachin said.

Barachin's issue in finding employees follows a statewide trend of businesses struggling to find workers.

Yet New Mexico's unemployment rate was the highest of any state in January, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The unemployment rate for New Mexico stood at 5.9 percent, according to the data, with the District of Columbia coming in last at a rate of 6.3 percent. Nationally, the unemployment rate stands at 4 percent.

"There's tons of jobs out there," said Ruby Quintana, branch manager for Express Employment Professionals in Albuquerque. "I don't know of (any company) that is paying minimum wage anymore."

( New Mexico's statewide minimum wage increased to $11.50 in January.)

Barachin acknowledged that job seekers are wanting more money — and for good reasons.

"It's not enough," Barachin said of the pay he is offering at his bakery. "Why? Rent has gone up; gas has gone up — everything has gone up. ... We understand."

The unemployment rate was slightly higher than the previously recorded month in December 2021, when about 5.8 percent of the state's workforce remained jobless. And a year-over-year comparison to January 2021 shows that New Mexico's unemployment rate dropped from 7.4 percent.

In Bernalillo County, the state's most populous county, the unemployment rate stood at 4.9 percent.

But despite the high unemployment rate, New Mexico has realized job growth in some industries.

Notably, nonagricultural employment in the state grew by 46,700 jobs, or about 6 percent, from January 2021 to January 2022. And leisure and hospitality has seen the largest year over year increase of more than 25,000 jobs, or 37.1 percent, according to the Department of Workforce Solutions Labor Market Review report.

Of the leisure and hospitality sector, Albuquerque saw an increase of nearly 11,000 jobs — a 36 percent increase from the previous year. In total, the city saw a jobs increase of 22,000 from January 2021, according to the report.

Rob Black, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said he understands people wanting more money and better benefits. But a sense of "inertia" may have set in for some prospective job seekers who remained home during the pandemic, or those who may have health concerns, he added.

"Employees are in a stronger position than they have been in a long time," Black said.

But job seekers looking for higher paying jobs are not always qualified for those positions. Black said businesses can pay for — or offer — training programs to prospective employees.

"If we can get our workforce and education system better aligned," Black said, "we are in a good spot."

(c)2022 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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