The first week of the reinstated shutdown of interior dining at New Mexico restaurants coincided with a 27 percent increase in weekly initial jobless claims, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

New Mexico saw 8,135 new claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending July 18, the highest number since early May. In addition to those claims were 3,438 filed through the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed workers, contractors and gig economy workers.

New Mexico was among 15 states to see increases in new unemployment claims, while claims nationwide dropped to 1.37 million for the week of July 18 from 1.51 million a week earlier.

Santa Fe County had a brighter week than the state, with a 7.5 percent decrease in new claims, to 414, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

New Mexico’s unemployment rate had dropped to 11.42 percent July 11, the lowest rate since April 11. But that is likely to be higher now, following the July 13 closure of indoor dining.

Restaurants and hotels had started to see an employment boost in June, with some 13,300 more people working that month than in May as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham began easing COVID-19-related business restrictions.

The numbers were grim compared with June 2019, however: 24,500 job losses in the industry, according to Workforce Solutions.

Mining and logging — which includes the oil and natural gas industry — was New Mexico’s other big loser in June, with a 6,400 drop in employment compared with June 2019.

The information sector lost 1,900 jobs or 16.7 percent year over year but gained 100 jobs from May to June. The information sector is comprised of publishing, motion picture and sound recording, broadcast, telecommunications, data processing and other information services, according to Workforce Solutions.

Education lost 2,300 jobs year over year, Workforce Solutions reported.

“The chart shows that, although sobering, New Mexico’s labor market thus far has been less severely impacted than in most other states and is in better shape than in the US as a whole,” the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico wrote in a report.

“The reason that the number of unemployed increased by so much less than the number who recently lost their jobs is that many dropped out of the labor force,” the report said.

“This points to something further. It is very likely that many or most of these newly-unemployed persons simply left the state.”

(2) comments

Mike Johnson

And of course to make this situation worse, look at who is in charge of "Workforce Solutions". It can't get any worse with that kind of "leadership".

George Welland

Jobless Program Needs To Pay More Workers More Money!

Given the impact of the tourism and energy sectors upon New Mexico's economy, then expect high unemployment for a while (especially if Covid rates don't decline); but despite federal encouragement, under the FFCRA and CARES Acts to liberalize state unemployment insurance (UI) laws, no laws have been amended; and that is what is surprising! The state UI program should be changed to pay all who are unemployed (all except those fired for cause or quit without good reason).

The state should, "PAY ANY WORKER WHO WASN'T FIRED FOR CAUSE, AND ANYONE WHO QUIT FOR COMPELLING PERSONAL REASONS." It might be good health policy and economic policy to pay people to stay home until Covid-19 is better understood. Contrary to employers who hold out workers as props against business closures, such closings may better serve everyone. As for the demagoguery of paying bonuses to those who return to work, would that include payouts to next of kin for hospital and/or funerary costs, to compliment the other idea being floated of giving businesses immunity over Covid lawsuits? Arguably, the state needs to liberalize UI laws in order to facilitate stay-at-home orders, amidst hardship for workers in the hospitality and tourism industries. At the same time there could be more relief for non-essential businesses from eateries to tattoo parlors, but on the condition, they stay closed or partially closed. I can't abide health hazards masquerading as commerce which, unable to adapt despite government handouts, resort to exploiting local residents and the working class. In the face of growing income inequity, housing, and health care costs, there's a need for greater economic security, and short of guaranteed universal income and health care, liberalizing UI may be the only approach to dealing with emergencies and business cycles.

Unfortunately, we have UI programs that are intentionally complex, punitive, and designed to delay and deny benefits to keep payroll taxes low and subject employees to the whims of their employers. Although the $600.00 federal bonus may be gone in whole or part, there may be time to change state laws to help individuals and the economy. The current system of helping individuals and their families is just a feel-good component of the program; because it's not sufficient without the federal bonus and additional weeks; but the real point of UI (since its inception, albeit now only because it's greatly expanded under the CARES Act) is to improve the overall economy by helping as many individuals as possible!

Currently UI laws punish workers who quit to take care of family members, unless directly due to Covid. Quitting for other compelling reasons doesn't qualify, e.g., lack of transportation or typical household emergencies. Ironically, if your spouse is injured in a car accident and you quit because you don't have approved leave to care for him or her, then you'll be disqualified from UI. Until this Spring everyone disqualified since last Summer, for quitting to care for family, are still disqualified from benefits unless they purge the disqualification. There are only a few (federally mandated) personal circumstance for quitting, that allow benefits; and again, these are very few*; but during a pandemic there should only be a few reasons NOT to pay benefits. e.g., discharge for cause and quitting without good reason! If you quit without notice (let's say to go fishing), you'd be disqualified from benefits, just as if you quit to take care of an aging parent, but in either case you could re-qualify. The original disqualification can be purged by working again, earning five times your weekly benefit amount, and filing to re-open your claim if you're not at fault for the new separation. The problem with this is it entices employers to collude with employees to game the system (maybe subsidizing a group's hunting trip) or worse, large scale fraud! Meanwhile, single parents with kids never re-qualify as they become indentured servants to temporary help firms. The same could be true for someone who quits to care for an elderly relative to keep them out of a nursing home (to avoid Covid). Even in normal times the notion of ensuring perpetual temporary servitude as way to make the system appear forgiving belies the practical reality that many forego seeking benefits unless they know in advance that they're eligible. Otherwise chances of being disqualified cause many to wait until it's more likely they're eligible, if they need UI in the future, rather than repeating the application process. Thus, being able to purge a disqualification is rather meaningless from the start and more of an administrative convenience for the state UI office and staffing agencies. Shockingly, a refusal to accept certain jobs over fears of infection has even been grounds to stop paying UI!

Politicians and employers in this state must know what's going on; but they do nothing or are satisfied with the present arrangement, even during a pandemic or recession when there are no jobs (hence the work search requirement was waived); so a denial of benefits awaits those who quit, until they meet the impossible task of finding another job, earning five times their weekly benefit amount, and avoid having to quit again? BUT HOW DO DISQUALIFIED WORKERS RE-QUALIFY DURING A PANDEMIC WHEN THERE ARE NO JOBS TO PAY ENOUGH TO REMOVE THE DISQUALIFICATION! Furthermore, what's the point, since there is no retroactive payment of weeks claimed for previously disqualified weeks? This has been pointed out to state officials, but apparently their attitude is, "Let them eat cake, if they can find it at the food bank!" The compassionate and reasonable thing to do is to grant benefits to those who quit for compelling personal reasons for as long as the pandemic exists (to coincide with waiving the work search and paying the "waiting week"). The mere appearance of being compassionate does not help the individual, but more people with actual income supports the entire economy. Remember this if the school year doesn't resume as normal! Additionally, a requirement to stay home could reduce or disqualify benefits for those who fail to wear masks or attend large public gatherings (in other words the carrot and stick of UI laws could be to promote public health as much help individuals and the economy).

Life under a pandemic is reaching a point where closing things down again without liberalizing jobless benefits would be both cruel and folly! The corporate welfare of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) in the CARES Act temporarily paid employers to keep workers on the job (usually at reduced hours with make-work of cleaning while exposing themselves to others), but employees should have been allowed to go home, stay safe, and take care of their families. Eviction moratoriums and subsidizing up to eight weeks of wages was wasted because we didn't understand the virus or proper hygiene, but if lock downs had been instituted earlier and longer, then we'd might have significantly reduced the unemployment rolls, along with Covid cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The greater economic impact of clothing more workers with greater economic security through liberalized UI laws is analogous to everyone wearing face masks, it literally covers more people and protects the entire population. Congress rightly increased and expanded jobless benefits, although wasted money on PPP; but hopefully Congress will provide more direct relief to workers; and not waste resources on corporate welfare through payroll tax cuts or fraud prone schemes like PPP. Likewise, New Mexico's UI laws need to be reformed to pay benefits to workers who quit for compelling personal reasons (even if only temporarily during the pandemic or a partial award); and thereby promote the true economic interests of the entire state; even if it means paying jobless benefits based more on adhering to a quarantine rather than actively seeking work or punishing workers with families!


Footnote* - The few non work-related personal reasons are: quitting due to pregnancy; relocating with a military spouse who's been transferred; & domestic abuse.

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