Las Cruces City Council Reviews Local Unemployment Trends

Aug 24, 2021

Credit City of Las Cruces

In a presentation to the Las Cruces City Council, Economic Development Deputy Director Francisco Pallares reported on the current state of city unemployment.  

The Las Cruces unemployment rate was 7.9% in June, down two percentage points when compared to June 2020.  The percentage is still higher than June 2019 numbers, when unemployment was at 6.3%.

“The city of Las Cruces is recovering from the negative economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pallares said. “We are recovering, however, about 6,000 individuals are still filing for unemployment insurance in Doña Ana County.”

Pallares says that current unemployment numbers, don’t accurately tell the entire story—in part due to a reluctance by some to seek employment during a public health crisis.

“We have a specific situation in which individuals are in some instances deliberately not going out to seek employment,” Pallares said. “They're seeking employment if they have to, but they're not necessarily going out and getting the jobs, right. It's quite an interesting phenomenon.”

Councilor Johana Bencomo says a lack of health protocols for select essential workers has partially led to a reluctance to enter the current workforce.

“We're still very much in a pandemic, where we are asking people to show up to work, and there isn't enough safety protocols,” Bencomo said. “There isn't enough of an incentive for people to actually feel safe at work from getting sick from COVID, and on top of that, many of these workers probably don't have health insurance.”

At the height of the pandemic, approximately 12,000 Doña Ana County residents filed unemployment insurance claims, a number that has since been cut in half. Pallares says those unemployment benefits are currently set to expire in early September—though emphasized that a lack of benefits might not be enough to significantly increase employment.

“We have to keep an eye out for September. Once these benefits expire, we’ll see what the labor market does,” Pallares said. “In Texas, in El Paso, the benefits have already expired, and they're still struggling to find people. So, this doesn't necessarily tell you that it's because of the benefits but rather because of other things that may be affecting it.”

While prices have collectively risen across the United States, Pallares says Las Cruces remains competitive with other American cities, which could potentially attract more residents to Las Cruces.

“Prices are going up, we are still competitive compared to other places in the nation,” Pallares said. “Because prices are going up everywhere, not just in Las Cruces. But when we compare ourselves to everyone else, we're still competitive in terms of prices.”

2020 census data for the city of Las Cruces shows an increase in the population by around 14%. Councilor Johana Bencomo wants to ensure that Las Cruces continues to grow, advocating for the city to explore ways to reduce the cost of living.

“People moved here,” Bencomo said. “People wanted to live in Las Cruces, and I want to make sure that we do as much as possible to keep that desire to want to live here and ensure that people, everyone from workers, to single parents, to young families, they want to stay here.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Mayor Ken Miyagishima offered ideas to cut down cost of living expenses, largely focusing on utilities.

“Just a couple ideas, one would be community solar,” Miyagishima said. “So, if we can do that, then I'm hoping that it would reduce our residents, those residents that participate, approximately 20%, less on their electric bill. Another one is…I wanted to look at increasing the franchise fee from El Paso Electric by 1%.”