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Oklahoma jobless rate hits two-decade high

BY DEBBIE BLOSSOM Modified: November 21, 2009 at 12:16 am •  Published: November 21, 2009
Oklahoma’s jobless rate climbed to 7.1 percent in October, its highest level in more than two decades.

After dropping slightly in September to 6.8 percent, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate climbed 0.3 percentage points last month, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday. A year ago, the state’s unemployment was 4.2 percent. It last topped 7 percent in January 1988.

Still, Oklahoma added 8,800 jobs for the month, the fourth-highest total in the country, the Labor Department said, with most of the gains coming in professional and business services, education and health care.

For the year, manufacturing and professional and business services posted the largest job losses — 16,900 and 13,500 respectively — the October Oklahoma Employment Security Commission employment report said. Since October 2008, the only sectors to post job gains were government, with 6,400 jobs, and education and health services, which added 3,800 positions.

Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported the country’s unemployment rate rose to 10.2 percent, the highest in 26 years, from 9.8 percent in September.

‘Not recession proof’
Firms in the hardest hit industries, like manufacturing, are playing wait and see, holding back from adding new positions or rehiring laid off workers, economists said.

"I think that’s the case,” Oklahoma City University economist Steve Agee said. "Manufacturers are delaying that decision until consumer demand comes back, and they don’t see that yet.”

While there have been some statewide job gains, "We’re losing more than we’re gaining,” Agee said.

The Labor Department reports, which indicate added jobs but higher unemployment, show how difficult it is to detail what is really happening in the state, said Russell Evans, director and research economist at the Center for Applied Economic Research at Oklahoma State University.

"We’re not recession proof, and there is no indication of manufacturing hiring or widespread hiring,” he said.