ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico has the worst unemployment rate in the nation, according to figures released Monday by state and federal labor officials.
January’s jobless rate of 6.7 percent remained unchanged from the previous month, but that’s still higher than the 6.5 percent recorded a year ago.
Nationally, the rate increased slightly to 4.8 percent despite an uptick in hiring in January as employers added 238,000 jobs.
The employment outlook has added fuel to a fiery debate in the New Mexico Legislature, where Democrats have blasted the Martinez administration over the stagnant economy. With less than a week remaining to shore up a significant budget shortfall, they say they have little choice but to push $350 million in various tax and fee increases.
Much of the problem stems from the downturn in the oil and gas industry, which contributes one of the largest chunks of the state revenue used to fund government programs.
The Martinez administration said Monday that New Mexico is too reliant on the oil and gas industry and the federal government.
Ben Cloutier, a spokesman for the state Economic Development Department, said lawmakers should be focused on legislation that creates a more business-friendly environment in New Mexico.
“We have to continue to focus on diversifying our economy and growing our private sector to bring more jobs and investment to our state,” he said.
The state needs to build on the momentum resulting from the construction of a Facebook data center near Los Lunas and the relocation of other companies to the state including Safelite and the technology company PCM, Cloutier said.
Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, an Albuquerque Democrat, said his fellow lawmakers have made job creation and economic development a priority and pointed to Gov. Susana Martinez’s recent vetoes of legislation that would have cleared the way for the hemp industry in New Mexico.
“Our state cannot afford to continue to miss out on these economic opportunities and fall further behind,” Padilla said.
In New Mexico, the private sector added about 5,500 jobs over the past year. However, goods-producing industries have lost about 4,100 jobs mainly due to continued losses related to mining.
Government jobs also are evaporating, according to the figures. State government posted a loss of 2,700 jobs, or 4.7 percent, while local government employment declined by 2 percent, or 2,100 jobs. Federal jobs were up by about 200 over the year.
The bright spot continues to be education and health services, which have reported the largest gains every month since July 2014. The industry has added 3,200 jobs over the past year.
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