NM ranks 47th in ratio of employment to population

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By Harold Morgan

New Mexicans don’t especially like work, or at least work captured in official statistics.
This work aversion is a continuing theme here. It’s something cultural, one of those rents in the social fabric that is central to our systemic troubles.
The state Department of Workforce Solutions recently provided valuable additional insight by reviewing the propensity for work in our 33 counties. The measure is the ratio of employment to population (E/P). The ratio reports the percentage of the population age 16 and over that is not in an institution such as a jail and not in the military.
The states stacking on top of Oklahoma lead in diligence. With 68 percent of its population employed in 2015, Nebraska has the highest employment-to-population ratio. Minnesota follows with 67.6 percent and Iowa has 67.3 percent. The other end of line finds West Virginia at 49.4 percent; Mississippi, 52.2 percent; and – ta da – New Mexico, 53.5 percent.
“For the five-year period 2010 to 2014, Los Alamos County posted the highest E/P ratio, at 62.3 percent,” DWS said. For the 2010–2014 period, the national rate was 57.7 percent, with New Mexico at 53.9 percent.
It’s not quite legit to compare the one-year national numbers with the DWS five-year numbers. The county figures are a range rather than a precise number, DWS said. Smaller population counties have a wider range. That said, notice that the ratio for well-to-do Los Alamos was nearly six points behind Nebraska. National Laboratory retirees, perhaps?
The rest of the top five have no such excuse. For the 2010-2014 period, Eddy County was second with 58.9 percent, followed by Bernalillo County, 58.2 percent; Santa Fe County, 57.9 percent; and Lea County, 57.8 percent. That Albuquerque and Santa Fe have a higher E/P ratio is no surprise. They have a million-plus people living reasonably close to one another, making for more economic activity. They remain well short of Nebraska.
The lowest ratios were in Catron County, at 34.2 percent; Guadalupe County, 34.3 percent; Harding County, 35.2 percent; Sierra County, 40.1 percent; and Torrance County, 41.2 percent. These counties have small populations and are rural, though Torrance County is part of metro Albuquerque. The people living in these counties are also old, DWS said, all with a median age well above the state’s 36.8 years.
Fourteen counties trail West Virginia’s E/P ratio. All are rural, though four have urban enclaves. Lincoln County has Ruidoso; Otero, Alamogordo; McKinley, Gallup; and Los Lunas and Belen in Valencia County, which also is part of metro Albuquerque.
To compare employment to population over time, DWS considered the five-year periods from 2005 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2014. Four rural small-population counties had their ratio drop 10 percent or more – Union, Mora, Hidalgo and Harding.
Three counties gained – Cibola, Eddy and Lea. The latter two reflected the oil boom that ended in 2014. (While drafting this column, a report appeared at marketwatch.com saying the Permian Basin of New Mexico and Texas has about as many drilling rigs as the rest of the nation combined. Maybe there’s hope.)
Various variables affect the employment-to-population ratio – economic, age geography, DWS cautions. But back to Nebraska, where the population is closest to New Mexico of all other states. Nebraska has one larger city, Omaha, with state capitol, Lincoln, 60 miles away, and is fairly empty outside of Grand Island and North Platte.
Sure, the population demographics are different. But nothing genetic explains the difference in work in the two states.
To argue that something inherent in New Mexico’s rich mix of people, about half of them born in other states, explains our pathetic social and economic situation is just absurd.