Oklahoma unemployment rate hits 21-year high

AP News
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Posted: Nov 23, 2009 3:19 PM

Oklahoma's unemployment rate climbed to 7.1 percent in October, the state's highest rate in more than 20 years, officials reported.

Oklahoma's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased from 6.8 percent in August and September, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported. It is the first time unemployment has reached 7.1 percent in the state since January 1988, OESC spokesman John Carpenter said Monday.

Although the unemployment rate rose, there was an increase of 8,800 jobs in Oklahoma from September to October, driven largely by increases in the professional and business services (1,400 jobs) and health care (1,800 jobs) sectors, the OESC reported.

Carpenter said many of those jobs may not be filled immediately.

"It's a bright spot, and it was kind of spread over most of the industries," Carpenter said. "That's a good thing. We're just not sure what it means right now."

Large job losses were reported in the mining and logging sector, which includes the oil and natural gas industry, where 1,400 jobs were lost from September to October. Other losses were reported in retail trade (1,500 jobs); arts, entertainment and recreation (500); and local government (300).

Despite the climb in unemployment, Oklahoma's rate continues to trail the national rate of 10.2 percent.

Like many states across the central region of the country, Oklahoma's rate is being helped by modest job growth before the recession hit, said Russell Evans, a research economist with the Center for Applied Economic Research at Oklahoma State University.

"There was no overexpansion of credit, no overheated manufacturing or construction center," Evans said. "I think we were a little more prudent on the way up, and the growth we saw over the last five years was legitimate growth.

"We also had a considerable amount of momentum going into the recession, which helped."

The oil and gas industry is important to the state's economy, so Oklahoma could get a boost from a gradual increase in worldwide energy demand, but until then the state will have to ride out a lingering soft employment cycle, Evans said.

"Patience is the key word," Evans said. "It was a global economic event, and we just have to wait for the global economy to recover."