Restaurant workers still lead the number of unemployed in New Mexico
Daniel J. Chacon
SANTA FE – Thousands of restaurant workers across New Mexico have cashed in more money to collect unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic than to be employed.
Those who have not learned other skills during this time may want to start looking for a job as soon as possible.
Ricky Serna, acting secretary of the State Department for Workforce Solutions, said Thursday that “food preparation and service” workers are the largest category of employees receiving unemployment benefits in the state. As of May 1, there were 8,496 unemployed workers in this category.
But as of May, he said, fewer than 2,400 jobs were being advertised online for this type of work, which could make it particularly difficult for people in that industry to find jobs when additional federal unemployment benefit. of $ 300 per week ends in September. .
“Planning is what a lot of job seekers need to consider,” Serna told the Legislative Assembly’s Income Stabilization and Fiscal Policy Committee after a lawmaker shared an employee’s story potential who turned down work because he was getting an extra $ 200 on unemployment.
“If you show them that [PowerPoint] slide that says, “Look, there aren’t enough openings for all of you doing this job, and if you wait until the end of August to try and start with a local restaurant, with a local retailer or whatever, you’ll be on the line with everyone who made the wrong decision to do the same. Your cliff is going to have a lot more of an impact on you, ”Serna said.
While the market for jobs related to food preparation and serving is tight, there are many opportunities for employment in other occupational groups. Health care is highest, followed by computers and math, then architecture and engineering.
“The job prospects for these UI [unemployment insurance] Applicants are pretty good, “Serna said.” They’re going to have a tremendous amount of opportunity, apparently, if they meet the minimum qualifications for these positions, to get a job very quickly. “
Workers in other occupational groups might not be so lucky.
“If I’m a career consultant and I’m sitting across from someone who says, ‘The last job or my skills are mostly food preparation and serving, where can I apply for a job where I ‘have a really good chance of getting one?’ you’re going to refer them to the one that requires a lot of skill, ”Serna said.
While other states have already decided to stop paying the additional federal benefit of $ 300 per week, an action some see as an incentive to get the unemployed back to work, New Mexico is not. part.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in June that she considered such a move “terribly punitive”.
“But we want to get workers to go to work,” she said at the time. “We do.”
In July, the governor’s office announced that the state would use federal stimulus funds to offer back-to-work bonuses of up to $ 1,000 “to accelerate the recovery of the workforce. the State ”.
Serna told lawmakers on Thursday that the average weekly unemployment benefit was $ 623, including the federal supplemental benefit.
Representative James Strickler, R-Farmington, said “many employers” in his district have vacancies but cannot find workers to fill them.
“I know these are, you know, minimum wage jobs, service jobs, not the highest paying jobs,” he said, adding that employers have complained that applicants “get more money. ‘money with unemployment benefits’ that they do not work.
“They just stay at home,” he said. “It’s really frustrating for these employers.”
New Mexicans have also seen or felt the impacts firsthand, from “help wanted” signs in windows to longer waits and reduced hours in restaurants.
“Nobody wants to work,” a bartender at a Santa Fe-area restaurant told a couple, asking why they couldn’t order food. “They can’t find anyone to work.”
Strickler said the potential employee who turned down a job because he was making $ 200 more unemployed was reported to Workforce Solutions.
“Your service at Farmington took action immediately, and they turned down its benefits,” Strickler told Serna. “I think it was a good thing.”
Serna said his ministry encouraged employers to report such cases “so that we can stop benefits when appropriate.”
“We are determined to do it, to understand what it does to the economy,” he said.
Follow Daniel J. Chacon on Twitter @danieljchacon.