Oklahoma's jobless rate rose in July for the first time in nearly a year, although at 4.9 percent it remains well below the national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent.
The state's unemployment rate ticked up 0.2 percentage points, the first time it has risen since August 2011. The number of unemployed Oklahomans increased by 2,860 and employment fell by 1,980, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported.
Even with the July dip, Oklahoma's rate of employment growth over the past year tops 3 percent based on the household survey used to establish the unemployment rate, said Lynn Gray, chief economist for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
“We have not seen an annual rate of employment growth this strong since 1984,” Gray said.
The broader establishment survey of seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment showed Oklahoma added 1,900 jobs in July. Gray said that survey, however, reflects “a pronounced slowing” in job growth over the past three months.
“For the first four months of the year we saw average monthly job growth of over 5,200, but for the past three months our average job growth has been under 650 per month,” Gray said.
Two major employment sectors — mining (which includes energy) and manufacturing — that had been adding jobs robustly earlier this year slowed dramatically in the past three months, Gray said.
Economist Mickey Hepner, dean of the business school at the University of Central Oklahoma, said the numbers generally reflect a stable labor market in the state.
“If it (the unemployment rate) continued to rise like this for a sustained period, that might be much more problematic,” Hepner said. The job growth in the establishment survey demonstrates the underlying strength of the local economy, he said.
Oklahoma's 2.4 percent annual growth in nonfarm employment was the nation's third-best percentage gain, trailing only North Dakota, 6.8 percent, and California, 2.6 percent, for the period of July 2011 to July 2012.
Oklahoma was one of 44 states in which the jobless rate rose in July, the largest number of states to show an increase in more than three years. The U.S. Labor Department said the rates fell in two states and were unchanged in four.
Nationwide, hiring improved in July after three months of tepid job gains. But the national unemployment rate ticked up to 8.3 percent from 8.2 percent. Monthly job gains have averaged 150,000 this year. That's barely enough to accommodate population growth. As a result, the unemployment rate is the same as when the year began.
Still, 31 states gained jobs in July, while 19 lost them. Unemployment rates can rise in a state even when more jobs are created if more people start looking for work. People who are out of work are counted as unemployed only if they're looking for a job.
The Associated Press