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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Unemployment varies widely by age and race, she said, presenting some statistics:

•  Whites age 16-19 have just more than 10 percent unemployment; blacks of the same age have 35 percent unemployment; Hispanics of the same age have more than 15 percent unemployment.

•  Whites and Hispanics age 20 and up have less than 5 percent unemployed; blacks 20 and up have about 8 percent unemployment.

Schooling matters

But, Myers said, education is “the great equalizer.” Unemployment among those with less than a high school education is around 7 percent. Among those with a high school education it's 5 percent. Among those with an associate degree of vocational certificate it's around 4 percent; and among those with a bachelor's degree or above it's around 3 percent.

Looking at employment another way shows how participation in the workforce varies by race and gender, Myers said, presenting more numbers:

•  73 percent of white men are in the workforce — that is, they either have jobs or are looking for work — and 70 percent are employed, while 55 percent of white women are in the workforce and 52 percent are employed.

•  67 percent of black men are in the workforce and 63 percent are employed, while 65 percent of black women are in the workforce and 58 percent are employed.

•  88 percent of Hispanic men are in the workforce and 85 percent are employed, while 57 percent of Hispanic women are in the workforce and 54 percent are employed.

Workforce influences

What determines whether people are looking for work? It's not just discouragement or weariness from looking for a job. Myers pointed to five other drivers of the size of the workforce:

Custom, such as socially conservative Oklahoma families with women who don't work outside the home; age of population in a given place; high income, which does not require a double-income family; poverty, which often means lack of skills and other resources required for employment; and health, including drug use.

In any case, Myers said, with the oil patch humming and the state economy strong in general, “It's a very good time to be in Oklahoma,” although global pressures could make 2013 rocky, especially in manufacturing.

And failure of Congress and the White House to come to long-term agreement on the nation's budget could cost Oklahoma thousands of jobs with cuts to military spending.

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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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