In a tale of two capital cities, it's no accident that Oklahoma City and Bismarck, N.D., have the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, one in the large-market category and the other in the small-market group.
The energy industry has fueled prosperity in Oklahoma and North Dakota. In both cases, key industry players are based in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City's 4.6 percent jobless rate for September was the lowest in the nation among metro areas with 1 million or more people. That compares with 5.3 percent for the second-place cities but is also 2.4 percentage points above Bismarck's 2.2 percent.
Most U.S. cities are seeing improved unemployment rates. Oklahoma City's September figure was unchanged from the previous month. What's interesting and somewhat troubling is that the energy sector is not entirely in the best of times and actually could be declining as the driver of jobs growth.
Any jobs growth is good, but energy jobs pay a lot more than most other sectors — as much as four times more than retail trade, for example. “The pay isn't the same, nor is the sustainability,” said Lynn Gray, chief economist for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
Oklahoma City's good fortune in recent years is inextricably tied to the energy sector, not just in the number of new jobs but in the salaries they pay. Oklahoma City and Bismarck are linked by North Dakota's booming Bakken field in which Oklahoma-based firms are active.
Bismarck and North Dakota are to the current decade what Oklahoma City and the state were in the early part of the 20th century — enjoying the best of times.
Bismarck is an energy boomtown that, month after month, effectively has full employment. No big city in the country can make that boast, but Oklahoma City comes the closest.