LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- As the March 1 deadline for automatic federal budget cuts grows closer, New Mexico is bracing itself as one of the states that could be hardest hit. Economists believe the state could lose tens of thousands of jobs.
The state's largest employer is Los Alamos National Laboratory, a federally funded nuclear research facility in northern New Mexico. A second lab, Sandia National Lab, operates mainly out of Albuquerque. New Mexico also has four military bases.
Chris Erickson, an economist at New Mexico State University, says the total number of federal employees in the state is close to 49,000.
"New Mexico has about twice the number of federal employees of the national average," he said. "We have about 4 percent of statewide employees are federal compared to about 2 percent nationally."
Erickson and others estimate the state could lose at least 20,000 jobs in the next two years. The figure includes private sector jobs tied to government contracts as well as indirect losses to retail and entertainment.
White Sands Missile Range, a weapons testing facility in southern New Mexico, is currently under a hiring freeze and preparing for furloughs that could last up to 22 days.