New Mexicans don’t work. More precisely, fewer New Mexicans participate in the labor force, on a percentage basis, than in most states.
I don’t know why. I haven’t heard anyone ask, other than one or two labor economics nerds. The problem has to be cultural, deeply embedded in New Mexico society.
Start the consideration with Nebraska, the state closest in population to New Mexico. Nebraska’s population was 1.83 million in 2010. Ours was 2.06 million. Culturally the two states are vastly different, which is the point of the comparison. Similarities are a larger city, Omaha, and a state capitol 60 miles away, Lincoln. Omaha beat Albuquerque in the Pacific Coast League division playoffs.
During 2010, Nebraska averaged 71 percent of its population in the labor force. New Mexico scored 60 percent. With its smaller population, Nebraska offered employers 55,000 more people working or looking for work than did New Mexico.
As Buffalo Springfield observed years ago, “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”
In the jargon, then, New Mexico’s labor force participation rate was 60 percent. By July 2012, our rate was down to 57.9 percent. Nebraska was the nation’s leader at 71.7 percent, just ahead of oil-booming North Dakota at 70.7 percent.