As published in the Las Cruces Bulletin, March 19, 2021

At the one-year mark of the COVID pandemic, we’re all pretty familiar with COVID numbers.

However, throughout the crisis, we, at The Bridge of Southern New Mexico, have been keeping our eyes on other numbers relevant to the cataclysmic chain reaction of impacts brought on by the COVID shutdowns. Specifically, how is this impacting education and employment?

We’ll start with the good news…

Just released high school graduation rates were up for 2019-2020 school year (despite the onset of the pandemic): 83% across the three districts– the county’s highest so far. 

Here is a breakdown by district:

Las Cruces Public Schools – 86.2%

Gadsden Independent School District – 82.2%

Hatch Valley Public Schools – 80.2%

Thank you to our educators, parents, and (of course) the students themselves who found ways to make sure our seniors had the support they needed to earn their diplomas. 

These 2,755 graduates are so important, because they have significant economic impacts on our county. Once this group hits the workforce, they represent:

  • $60 million in annual earnings, if they only finish high school
  • $72 million in annual earnings, if they earn college-level career credentials or two-year degrees
  • $112 million, if they earn four-year degrees

They are vital contributors to our economic recovery as a community and state.

What about jobs? If they continue to pursue their education after high school, will they have jobs ready for them here? YES!

There were 6,048 jobs available in February in Doña Ana County, ranging from entry-level to professional degrees. That number rises and falls throughout the year, but there are consistently thousands of jobs available in our county.

That’s why we work so hard to maximize our people’s earning power right here, growing and flourishing in local careers. Their earnings flow out across the county in spending, growing the tax base, and perhaps in creating their own companies. Our goal is to keep as many of them here as possible.

Now here’s the bad news:

In our county, 9,504 people are still receiving unemployment benefits (as of March 8, 2021) and 110,663 statewide, according to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions data. 

Four industries account for about 2 out of every 5 jobs lost here:

  • 1,497 – Accommodation and Food Service
  • 1,053 – Healthcare and Social Assistance
  • 829 – Retail Trade
  • 773 – Construction

In 2019, these four industries were the top private-sector employers in our county – illustrating the dramatic change underway in our economy. That’s why we are laser-focused on the industries that are key to our ongoing growth and economic sustainability for families: Healthcare, Aerospace, Defense, Energy, Digital Media, Value-Added Agriculture, Advanced Manufacturing, and Transportation and Logistics. 

Healthcare is unique in appearing in both lists, but it has come roaring back. Today, there are 786 job openings just in Healthcare and Social Assistance.

Why do these private sector industries matter? Because without a strong private sector, our public sector simply won’t have the resources needed to serve our county well. 

Here’s one last set of numbers we should be tracking. A recent report from McKinsey & Company assessed the impact of school closures on student outcomes nationally. What they found was very troubling. From March 2020 to June 2021, students will have suffered, on average:

7 months of learning loss, translating to $61,000 – $82,000 in lifetime earnings lost, and

$173 billion – $271 billion in lost Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

If we genuinely believe that our students and our people are the greatest resources we have, we must focus in the days ahead on helping both. Each group has great potential, and each can have a bright future. 

Doña Ana County is uniquely positioned to support both – I believe more than any other county in the state. We understand our interconnectedness, and we act that way.

As we go back to school, back to opening, and back to work, I believe our numbers will be able to tell a great story about this county did—together.