Unemployment claims dropped 29 percent this week in New Mexico, but the numbers remain staggering.
Such is the severity of the COVID-19 crisis on the state’s economy.
According to the state Department of Workforce Solutions, 20,085 employment claims were filed in New Mexico between April 3 and Thursday.
Add those numbers to the previous three weeks’ claims — 28,344, 31,840 and 17,187 — and its clear the unemployment picture in the state is close to disastrous.
In all, more than 97,000 New Mexicans have filed for unemployment since March 13 out of a workforce of 835,800. In February, 45,964 were unemployed, according to Workforce Solutions’ New Mexico Labor Market Review.
Workforce Solutions reported 62,136 weekly certifications of unemployment were filed this week by people receiving benefits or awaiting determination. The certification number was 44,000 and 16,000 the previous two weeks.
Workforce Solutions Secretary Bill McCamley had no explanation for the large drop in claims this week, adding the department is assessing the numbers.
The claims likely will surge again as an estimated 62,000 self-employed, contractors and gig economy workers for the first time qualify for unemployment benefits later in April and Workforce Solutions installs the system to include them.
Workforce Solutions for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic has released county unemployment figures. For the week ending April 4, Santa Fe County had 2,372 unemployment claims. That comes on top of 2,692 on March 28 and 1,864 on March 21.
The county accounted for 5 percent to 6 percent of the state totals in early March and 9 percent to 10 percent once unemployment became rampant.
Workforce Solutions has determined that from March 7 to April 4, accommodation and food service made up about one-fourth of all job losses with the 25-to-34 age group the hardest hit.
The week ending April 4 saw 9,977 accommodation and food-service jobs lost across the state, 5,157 in health care and social assistance, 4,715 in retail, and 2,740 in construction.
That week saw 11,632 people ages 25 to 34 go jobless. Another 8,122 were in the 35-to-44 demographic.
Many businesses may not survive the near shutdown of the economy. Even in the early days of the crisis, many businesses and workers said they were struggling to make April rent or lease payments.
Experts say the unemployed likely will face a new work world when the crisis ebbs.
“When we get back to normalcy, the status quo before the pandemic will not be the status quo after the pandemic,” said Rajiv Sethi, external professor of economics at the Santa Fe Institute and economics professor at Barnard College at Columbia University. “People will not be going to the same jobs because the same jobs won’t exist anymore.”
Even for those who had more control over their jobs, things will be different.
Self-employed for 20 years, Terri Miller three weeks ago closed the salon she operates in her Eldorado home and said she’s hoping to ride out the uncertainty.
“I’m OK right now. I’ve been having to dig into my savings,” she said. “I’m probably in better shape than others. I can’t do this forever. I was able to pay rent and pay bills [in April]. I can defer car payments for three months. I’m going to be OK, but it’s uncomfortable. It will start getting interesting in three months for me. I should be fine until then.”
Parris Broderick was a waiter at Coyote Café until the restaurant was shut down in mid-March.
“Over the last three weeks, mine as well as my other colleagues’ [lives] have certainly morphed into a world that none of us would have considered a possibility or imagined in our wildest dreams,” Broderick said. “As for challenges that I personally am facing, it mostly revolves around my fiscal household and how to balance unemployment benefits with incoming overhead.
“In many ways I am lucky. My former partner and I own our home so we — we still live together — try to find ourselves busy with projects around our house.”