More than meets the eye in Oklahoma job stats

Commerce Department labor specialist Deidre Myers looks under Oklahoma's vaunted low unemployment rate and finds gaps.
by Richard Mize Published: January 30, 2013
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Rosy unemployment rates aside, Oklahoma faces an educational gap for new jobs that will take more vocational education as well as college to fill.

That's one of several layers that labor specialist Deidre Myers peeled from workforce stats Tuesday at the annual Edmond Economic Preview. Myers, director of research, economic analysis and policy services for the state Commerce Department, was one of several speakers at the event, organized by the Edmond Economic Development Authority and First Fidelity Bank.

Topsy-turvy

State figures are just about upside down when it comes to workforce education and employers' needs, Myers said, providing the numbers:

•  Employers need 23 percent of the workforce to have at least a high school education, 49 percent to have an associate degree or vocational training, and about 24 percent to have a bachelor's degree.

•  What Oklahoma provided in 2010, the latest year for which figures were available, was a workforce where 46 percent had a high school education, 31 percent had an associate degree or vocational training, and 15 percent had a bachelor's degrees.

Further, across-the-workforce averages, such as Oklahoma's current enviable unemployment rate of 5.1 percent — versus 7.8 percent for the nation as a whole — mask other kinds of gaps, Myers said.

“There isn't just one story across Oklahoma,” she said.

Recession is over

State Treasurer Ken Miller, also a speaker at the event, noted that Oklahoma is one of just five states that have regained all the jobs it lost during the Great Recession, thanks partly to the energy business that touches one-third of the $150 billion state economy.

Further, Oklahoma had the fifth-fastest growth among the states in manufacturing over the past year — up 3.8 percent — and had the seventh-highest net migration, gaining almost 28,000 because of low taxes, low cost of living, low unemployment and sustainable job growth, Miller said.

County unemployment rates vary from less than 4 percent to more than 8 percent, though, and neither extreme is good, Myers said.

Job by age, race

The downside to the higher rates, in Latimer, Le Flore and McCurtain counties in Little Dixie, is obvious: more people out of work.

The downside to the lower rates, mostly in sparsely populated counties in western Oklahoma, is less clear, but in such a tight labor market, growth stalls because production flattens and employers can't expand, Myers said.


by Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked...
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