Interactive: What the jobs are in Oklahoma

Via New Old Stock
Via New Old Stock

Politicians love to talk about jobs. Promoting job creation is a go-to justification in many of Oklahoma’s policy decisions, whether it’s to extend tax breaks for oil companies or ban local minimum wage and paid sick leave laws.

However, aside from talking about job creation in very broad strokes, we don’t hear much discussion about what the jobs actually are in Oklahoma. That’s not for lack of data. Quarterly economic surveys by the U.S. Census give us a detailed portrait of where Oklahomans are working and what they earn by industry. These numbers may correct some popular misconceptions about Oklahoma’s economy.

In the chart and interactive visualization below, you can dive into what the jobs really are in Oklahoma. For instance, here is employment in the ten largest industries* in Oklahoma, averaged over four quarters.


*Industries classified using the 3-digit NAICS

Looking only at total number of jobs, Oklahoma is dominated by education and food and drinking places. Health care industries provide another large chunk of state jobs, with both ambulatory health services (that means doctors, dentists, and other outpatient services) and hospitals placing in the top six. Oklahoma is known as a state dominated by the oil and gas industry, yet it’s not until the bottom of the top ten job areas that we see anything directly related to oil and gas drilling.

Incorporating average incomes into the data does give more insight into why oil and gas is so influential. In this interactive chart, bubbles are sized by the total number of workers in the industry. Bubbles furthest to the right of the chart contribute the most total income in Oklahoma, while bubbles higher up have the largest per-worker incomes. The two bubbles jumping to the top of the chart, with average incomes of more than $120,000 per worker, are for “Pipeline Transportation” and “Oil and Gas Extraction.” That’s clearly where high-paying jobs in Oklahoma are concentrated.

On the other hand, the large blue bubble on the far right contains the largest number of workers in the state and contributes the most total income. That’s “Educational Services”, with annual per worker incomes of just $33,429. The next largest segment of workers, “Food Services and Drinking Places,” is also the lowest paying in the state, with average annual incomes of just $13,812 (which is below the poverty level for any family of 2 or more).

These numbers clearly illustrate why Oklahoma continues to see high poverty levels even when the oil and gas industry is booming and unemployment is low. It also makes clear that Oklahoma’s deep cuts to education funding threaten a large portion of the state’s workforce, even beyond how they impact students. 

Click here or on the image  below to go to the interactive jobs chart.

Oklahoma Jobs (Q4 2013 - Q3 2014)


Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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