Oklahoma unemployment rate hits 19-month low

by Spears School News Staff 
(March 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm)

This article originally appeared in the Tulsa World. Read the original article.

Oklahoma’s jobless rate dropped to 6.6 percent in January – the lowest since May 2009, according to data released Thursday by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

January’s rate was down from a 6.8 percent reading in December.

According to revised data, Oklahoma’s rate hovered at a high of 7.3 percent from December 2009 through March 2010 but has trended downward since then.

“Overall this is a good report and when combined with the newly revised 2010 numbers shows a labor market that is beginning to recover,” said Lynn Gray, the OESC’s chief economist, in e-mailed comments.

Two separate surveys – a smaller one taken among households and a larger survey taken among business establishments – are used to measure the state’s unemployment rate and determine its number of nonfarm jobs.

The larger survey taken among businesses shows that Oklahoma’s nonfarm employment grew by 3,400 jobs over the month for a total of 1,534,600. Over the past year the state has added a net of 17,100 nonfarm jobs and has seen 13,400 added since September, Gray said.

Sizable gains for January were seen in manufacturing; professional and business services; educational and health services; and leisure and hospitality, according to the OESC. The largest loss came in trade, transportation and utilities.

At last year’s Economic Outlook Conference, Russell Evans, director and research economist of the Center for Applied Economic Research with Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, said he expected Oklahoma’s economic recovery to gain momentum in 2011. He also predicted that the gap between Tulsa and Oklahoma City’s unemployment rate should close, as well.

Evans noted that population adjustments within the survey led to a drop in the state’s rate as well as a big drop in the U.S. jobless rate, which fell from 9.4 percent in December to 9 percent in January.

Unlike the larger business survey that showed a rise in nonfarm jobs, the smaller household survey recorded a drop in Oklahoma’s total employment.

Little change has been seen in total employment over the past 12 months, both economists said.

“This recovery is a little unusual in that often we see stronger numbers in the household survey first, because it captures a wider segment of society and includes agriculture and self-employed,” Evans said.

But in this case, the business survey has been showing more strength, he added. It’s a bigger survey but captures a smaller subgroup of society, Evans said.

Evans noted that the state’s increase in nonfarm jobs is coming mainly from the Tulsa area. When revised data becomes available, it probably will show that Tulsa was not hit quite as hard as previously thought, he said.

Data also show that the number of unemployed has gradually declined from a high of 128,482 individuals in January 2010 to 115,555 this January, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That was the lowest number recorded since April 2009.

Evans said he still expects to see a significant recovery in the labor market by the second half of this year.

“I think everything looks good and is still lining up for a recovery to come,” he said.

Nationwide in January, Nevada continued to register the highest unemployment rate at 14.2 percent, followed by California at 12.4 percent and Florida at 11.9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

North Dakota had the lowest rate at 3.8 percent.

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