NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The so-called “Great Resignation” has upended the U.S. workforce. In New Mexico, it’s even caused a shortage of 911 dispatchers among many other industries New Mexicans rely on. It’s a complex issue, but the state’s Department of Workforce Solutions recently researched the issue. Here’s what they found.

The problem: Low labor participation

New Mexico isn’t alone in seeing worker shortages in a range of industries. But in a recent presentation to a committee of state legislators, New Mexico’s Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) said the state’s labor force participation rate is lower than the national average. And the data shows it’s been that way for years.

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New Mexico’s labor force participation rate has been below the national average since 1976. From DWS/NM Legislature.

Nationwide, a little over 61% of working-age people across the nation are either working or actively seeking jobs. In New Mexico, that number is only 56.7%, according to DWS. And the department laid out five key reasons why that is.

1. Workers leaving New Mexico

New Mexico’s population has changed over the years. The 2020 census showed that the state has grown slightly, but not as much as most other western states.

U.S. Census data shows that people are leaving some counties. KRQE News 13 previously reported that Bernalillo County was among the state’s biggest losers in terms of population.

DWS reports that the population of New Mexicans between the ages of 25 to 54 years old, in particular, has decreased. That means fewer working-age New Mexicans in the state.

2. New Mexico is aging fast

In addition to workers leaving the state, New Mexico is also seeing more workers retire or age out of the workforce. This trend isn’t only happening in New Mexico, but DWS says that in New Mexico, it’s happening at a faster rate than throughout the rest of the country.

U.S. Census data highlights the issue. Bernalillo County lost a net total of more than 2,000 people from July 2020 to July 2021 as people aged and a declining birth rate failed to keep up.

3. Lots of New Mexicans are on disability

Disability payments are an important economic safety net for millions of Americans. In fact, more than 10 million people qualify for disability-based Medicaid, according to the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission.

In New Mexico, the percentage of people on disability has increased recently, according to DWS. And it’s increased faster in New Mexico than it has across the rest of the nation.

The number of New Mexicans receiving disability-based social security income is up 45.1%. Nationwide, the number is up 30.7%, according to DWS.

4. New Mexico has many non-working mothers

The data shows that New Mexico has more stay-at-home moms than most other states. In fact, DWS says New Mexico has the 6th highest percentage of non-working women with children between the ages of 6 and 17.

Nationally, less than 75% of mothers with children under the age of 18 hold jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the pandemic forced more mothers to stop working, as children had to stay home from school. On top of that, WalletHub, a financial management company, ranked New Mexico in the bottom half of states when it comes to opportunities for working moms. However, they did rate New Mexico as having a relatively small pay gap between men and women.

5. New Mexico’s low cost of living means less need to work

If you’ve visited California or New York, you’ve probably realized that most goods and services are relatively cheap in New Mexico. That’s good news for residents, but it impacts the workforce according to DWS.

The cost of living has gone up in recent years, thanks to inflation and supply chain issues. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center compiled a list that shows New Mexico is still one of the cheaper states in 2022.

They ranked New Mexico as the 19th cheapest state to live in for 2022. Our cost of groceries ranked slightly higher than the national average. But our housing and utility costs were relatively low in comparison to other states.

The implication, according to DWS, is that New Mexico’s low costs of living mean fewer New Mexicans have to work. The low costs make it possible for households to get by with only one person earning income, they say.