The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions announced Tuesday the state’s work search waiver for those receiving jobless benefits, put in place during the pandemic, has come to an end.
Workers receiving unemployment benefits must once again document at least two work search efforts per week, starting this week.
That may be a sign the state’s economy is improving as coronavirus cases drop and businesses reopen throughout New Mexico.
“With the decline in COVID-19 spread and the successful rollout of the vaccine, we have the tools to move New Mexico forward,” Ricky Serna, acting secretary of the Department of Workforce Solutions, said in a news release Tuesday.
“As a result, more employers are now able to increase their reopening efforts, including bringing more staff back to work and hiring new positions.”
Whether there are jobs available for everyone seeking employment is another matter. According to New Mexico Workforce Connection, an online job portal, there are at least 64,000 positions available in the state. Based on the most recent state data, however, over 81,000 workers were unemployed as of May 3.
New Mexico, like many other states, dropped the job search requirement from its unemployment benefits program as the pandemic led to business closures and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.
Workers were not expected to apply for jobs that did not exist.
Santa Fe-based employment attorney Eric Sirotkin said as the pandemic subsides, it’s not unreasonable to expect those who are collecting unemployment benefits to actively seek work again.
He said the new mandate will “stimulate people and workplaces to have more inquiries and more job applicants.”
“I think that reinstating it is a step towards normalcy,” Sirotkin added.
Critics contend some unemployed workers do not want to return to work because they have been earning more money from the state’s unemployment insurance program and federal aid than they were earning at their regular jobs.
A February report from the JPMorgan Chase Institute said researchers found “little evidence that elevated unemployment insurance benefits discouraged people from returning to work.”
It’s not as if New Mexico workers were not looking for a job during the pandemic, Sirotkin said. They just were not required to report those efforts to the state.
“People had to stay home to take care of their kids, to deal with sick relatives or because it wasn’t safe to go out,” he said. “I think people had plenty of excuses to stay home, but I don’t think it was the [unemployment] check in most cases.”
Silas Peterson, who runs the job placement agency The Hire Firm, said reinstating the job-search requirement “has to happen.”
But, he said, he’s not sure it will help people find work because unemployed residents might apply for jobs they are not qualified for or jobs that do not interest them.
He said at least 50 percent of the people who have applied to his agency during the pandemic failed to follow up for planned interviews.
“It does have some unplanned consequences in that it does require a little bit more work from employers who might get more applicant activity from people who are not really interested in those job openings,” he said.
During the pandemic, states initiated an array of emergency rules for the unemployed, including waiving job search requirements and the seven-day waiting period to receive benefits. Some also extended benefits to those in quarantine.
Over time, many states already have ended the job-search waiver, particularly since April, when the Department of Labor reported 266,000 jobs had been added to the economy.
That number was far short of the 1 million jobs some economists had been forecasting for the month, suggesting it may take the country more time to recover than expected.
Peterson said people want to get back to work.
“Most people, at the end of the day, do find some fulfillment in their work and would prefer to work and earn a paycheck than not to work at all,” he said.