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Thousands of Oklahomans 'underemployed'

More than 55,000 in Oklahoma struggle to find full-time work
by Brianna Bailey Published: August 31, 2014

The Oklahoma City metro area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, but 23-year-old Edmond resident Brandon Kobs has struggled to find permanent work after graduating with a degree in strategic communications from Oklahoma State University last year.

“There’s just not any jobs at creative firms, especially when there are so many talented freelancers out there they can go to when they need work done,” Kobs said.

Skilled in video production, graphic design and animation, Kobs decided to strike out on his own doing freelance design jobs after the small, family-owned firm he landed a job with after college ran into financial problems and left him without work.

So far, work has been slow and Kobs swings between classifying himself as underemployed or between jobs.

Kobs has been on a few job interviews, but interest in his resume has mostly come from commissioned sales jobs or network-based marketing companies.

Although Oklahoma’s economy is strong, some Oklahoman still struggle to find full-time work and are considered underemployed — or working part-time while seeking a full-time position.


Although Oklahoma’s statewide unemployment rate has hovered around 5 percent over the past year — a figure many economists consider full employment, not all of those workers are working full-time.

For the 12 months ending in July 2014, there were 55,700 Oklahomans who were working part-time hours for “economic reasons” out of a workforce of about 1.68 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau data compiled for the the U.S. Department of Labor.

“I would define these persons as ‘underemployed’ because they want full-time employment but are unable to find such employment,” said Lynn Gray, chief economist for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

There were another 320,000 Oklahoma workers who were working part-time hours for non-economic reasons during the same period of time, according to the federal data, typically meaning it was their choice to work less than 35 hours per week, Gray said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also compiles data that includes the number of long-term unemployed and people who are employed only part-time into the unemployment rate.

While Oklahoma has had an average official unemployment rate of 5.2 percent over the past nine months ending in July, the state’s unemployment rate rises to 9.7 percent when the long-term unemployed and part-time workers who want a full-time job are added.

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by Brianna Bailey
Business Writer
Brianna Bailey has lived in Idaho, Germany and Southern California, but Oklahoma is her adopted home. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and has worked at several newspapers in Oklahoma and Southern...
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