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Recession over? 6,000 jobs vanished last year

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By Harold Morgan

For more than a year, New Mexico has had 6,000 more people working than we thought we had. Or not.
If that sounds odd, it is odd. Maybe even another reason to distrust “the government,” one part of which is the source of dilemma.
Another piece of the government, the Legislative Finance Committee called it a “perceived error.”
I’ll explain. But first step back to a bigger picture.
We are all, people and organizations, measured by our accounting systems.
For people, the accounting measures might start with the amount of cash in the pocket, step up in sophistication to a checking account, then to computer tracking of spending and income and go from there.
Business accounting might start with cash in pocket for someone in the informal economy, move to a checking account for a proprietorship and escalate to the enormous complexities of a large public firm.
Still, it is counting, whatever the complexity.
 A necessary assumption is that the systems work and are accurate, mostly, whatever the complexity.
The monthly job count provides a key accounting of economic performance for states and metro areas.
The headline grabbing numbers come from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics via the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions.
They cover employment, unemployment and wage jobs. For the past year, the official numbers have been blah, neither gaining nor losing much, an improvement from two years of steady job loss.
Maybe the reports are accurate.
The problem is that 6,000 jobs vanished without explanation between September and October 2010.
The losses were in the professional and business services sector, concentrating in administrative and waste services, which includes security guards, janitors and landscapers.
People who watch these details were dubious.
Last summer, Lee Reynis, of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico, told the LFC, “We were shocked by the magnitude of the job loss in professional and business services in the fourth quarter of 2010.
We knew of no layoffs that could explain a decline of this magnitude in one quarter.”
Nor did new applications for unemployment compensation surge last October. It would not be unreasonable (and also not within any proper statistical approach) to simply add those 6,000 jobs back into the totals.
That would mean that the state’s current totally modest run of tiny year-over-year increasing wage job totals started earlier and is larger.
In fact, that would mean more wage jobs on a year-over-year basis for most months of 2011. And that would get a headline that might say, “New Mexico’s Economy Improving, Recession Done.”
People with businesses large and small pay attention to such headlines. They make decisions based on such headlines.
I’m told that the conversation about the state’s economic climate has turned positive.
My three anecdotal examples start with Bank of the West building a new Albuquerque branch to replace a half century old location that is worn and difficult to access.
In Las Cruces, a Holiday Inn Express is joining a Marriott TownePlace Suites on Telshor Court.
The parking lot at Albuquerque’s first Home Depot has sprouted a new building, a restaurant by the looks of it.
Whether or not an error, the vanished 6,000 jobs certainly are odd.
Sure, stuff happens.
When the “stuff” is big enough to matter, as is the case here, and affects many people, those responsible are obligated to call attention to the matter and fix it if possible.
In this case, the responsible New Mexico party is the Department of Workforce Solutions.
Page one of the monthly DWS newsletter should have a box saying, “Something funny happened with the numbers …”
The present course — doing nothing — is irresponsible.

Harold Morgan
© 2011 New Mexico News Services