County unemployment rate increases

By Ryn Gagulinski: CNJ staff writer

The state’s unemployment rate has been steadily increasing — up to 5.9 percent in March, higher than February’s 5.6 percent and January’s 5.3, according to state officials.

In Curry County, February saw a jobless jump up to 5 percent in February from last year’s 4.5.

State Department of Labor economist Mark Boyd said there is no reason for alarm.

“Our unemployment rate is deceptive,” Boyd said. “There are usually jobs available.”

Clovis resident Bryan Adame had no trouble finding a new position when he left his last job as a sales associate. “Just not the job I want,” Adame said.

He promptly landed a construction position offered by a friend. But his heart — and skill set — is administrative and clerical work. He sent out five applications for clerical work in the past week alone but has yet to land an interview. The State Department of Labor Web site lists clerical work as lowest in demand in Curry County. Healthcare personnel were in highest demand.

“You can go anywhere (around here) and people will hire you for physical labor,” Adame said. “But I can’t live off $5.15 an hour.”

On average, the Curry County paycheck is $431 per week compared to the statewide weekly average of $588, according to state numbers.

Workers in Los Alamos, home of several national research labs, earn the highest average weekly wage at $833. Luna County ranks lowest at $372 per week.

“New Mexico typically pays only 80 percent of the wages you would find elsewhere,” Boyd said, a fact that makes employment less attractive than in other states.

New guidelines for tracking employment might have an effect on some of the recent figures, Boyd said.

“At the county level it’s really just an estimation anyway,” he said, explaining regional unemployment data is only truly accurate when the census is done every 10 years, with the next one up in 2010.

In the interim, he said, Curry County isn’t bad off.

“Curry has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state,” Boyd said, noting its No. 7 ranking out of 30 counties.
“The entire eastern side of New Mexico is very low.”

Comparatively, the highest-ranking is Luna County with a 20.2 percent unemployment rate. Northern counties are also historically high-ranking, such as Taos with a 7.6.

Even with its jobless numbers steadily creeping upward, New Mexico only ranks 15 nationwide. Before the increase in the last three months, the state was lower than the national average, Boyd said.

Thus New Mexico is currently in good shape, Boyd said, especially when compared to the higher numbers that plagued the state in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1987 the jobless rate was 9.1 percent.