Only the truly cold-hearted fail to sympathize with the plight of the restaurant industry in New Mexico.
Cafés, pizzerias, diners, “fast casuals,” and their brethren were first struck by junk-science lockdowns. Then a cornucopia of welfare goodies, from boosted unemployment benefits to “free” electricity to eviction moratoriums, weakened the willingness of many of their former and potential employees to go back to work.
But in New Mexico, the industrial “supersector” with the largest loss in employment isn’t leisure and hospitality — the grouping that includes restaurants. Both natural resources and mining and information notched even greater job declines.
Source: Rock of Talk calculations based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data
Between February 2020 and 2021, New Mexico’s employment in natural resources and mining dropped by a staggering 31.3 percent. With forestry and fishing offering scant opportunities in the Land of Enchantment, the supersector here consists primarily of activities related to the extraction of hydrocarbons and hardrock minerals — e.g., copper and potash. Sadly, the industry with the worst job loss pays extremely well. Petroleum engineers (annual salary: $107,100), pump-system/refinery operators ($87,380), and excavating-equipment operators for surface mining ($63,440) fare quite nicely, particularly in a state with a relatively low cost of living. But the volatility of the international commodities market, at a time of panic over a virus that is far less lethal than governments and media claim, puts a full job recovery in doubt. Unemployment in petroleum-rich Lea County, for example, remains in double digits. And when Freeport-McMoRan’s Chino Mine resumed “50 percent production capacity” in January, just 340 returning workers came from the group of “800 … who were furloughed” eight months earlier, “representing a layoff of more than 450 individuals.”
The destruction of jobs in information might sting even worse than the retrenchment in natural resources and mining. Nationally, pay in the supersector is the highest of all — beating even financial activities and professional and business services. In New Mexico, software developers/quality assurance analysts (annual salary: $94,910), writers and authors ($77,240), news analysts, reporters, and journalists ($61,730), and telecommunications installers/repairers ($53,000) are among the information professions with compensation that exceeds the statewide average. They’re exactly the kind of non-government, non-extraction jobs New Mexico needs to diversify its economy. And under COVID-19 bedlam, they have declined by a disturbing 19.8 percent.
Federal bailouts can’t continue indefinitely. Without aggressive policies to restore New Mexico’s best-paying industries, the state’s future looks bleaker than ever.