23,885 is the number of people who dropped out of New Mexico’s workforce between December 2010 and July 2011.
1.9 is the percentage point decline in the state’s unemployment rate, from 8.6 percent to 6.7 percent, during the same period, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"Looking at the drop in unemployment, you would think New Mexico is just killing it."
—Jeff Mitchell, senior economist at the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research
New Mexico’s unemployment rate continues to drop steeply, something Mitchell says would be “phenomenal”—if it were accurate.
Instead, he says, the number is meaningless. In the past six months, each new job has come at a cost of roughly five people dropping from the workforce, Mitchell says.
BLS conducts monthly surveys to calculate the unemployment rate. Mitchell says fewer and fewer unemployed people are reporting that they’re looking for jobs.
“The irony is, when people say, ‘I’m not even looking anymore,’ the unemployment rate goes down,” Mitchell tells SFR.
Officially, the BLS considers people who haven’t looked for work in the past month “discouraged workers.” In August, New Mexico’s discouraged workers totaled to 297,107, according to BBER data.
Since certain federal unemployment grants require states to have unusually high unemployment rates, New Mexico’s lower rate means the state is losing out on benefits [briefs, June 29: “Numbers Game”].
Mitchell also says cuts in the federal government offset private job gains for most of this year.
He maintains that much of this year’s economic slump is a result of the spending cuts. “Typically, what happens in a recession is government picks up the slack,” he says.
Portions of President Barack Obama’s current “jobs” bill—particularly highway and infrastructure spending—could disproportionately benefit New Mexico, Mitchell says.
“We’ve got more highway per person because we’re so spread out as a state,” Mitchell says.
Extending payroll tax cuts, also part of Obama’s plan, would be another positive for the state, Mitchell says.