But what does the economic data actually mean?

I recently saw this story from KOB TV Channel 4:

It discussed these reports (state level and local level) from the Associated General Contractors of America. According to the report, New Mexico is lagging regionally in terms of construction jobs. Is it? The answer is complicated. For starters, the state level report, linked to again here, covers only one year worth of data. It is tough to confirm a long-term trend over just one year. Also, while New Mexico does not perform particularly well relative to the regional economy, it is 26th on the list in terms of construction jobs gained/lost. That’s not great, but not terrible either. More importantly, it is only a short time period and a specific sector of the economy (construction).

If you want a better employment-related description of state economies in one simple table, try this one and look for the states that have grown private sector employment more than state and local government employment since the onset of the recession (January 2008 for the purposes of this report). Only three states, North Dakota, Texas, and Louisiana fit the bill. New Mexico, unfortunately, has cut 1.32 percent from the state and local work force, but has lost 5 percent of its private sector jobs. Rather than lagging behind, New Mexico is just one of many states hemorrhaging private sector jobs.