The Bureau of Labor Statistics released May state-level employment numbers today and the news was again good for Oklahoma. The state’s unemployment rate fell from 5.6 percent to 5.3 percent, continuing a trend that has seen the rate fall a full 1.6 percentage points in just six months. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is now the 4th lowest in the nation, behind only North Dakota (3.2 percent), South Dakota and New Hampshire (both 4.8 percent). The national unemployment rate stood at 9.1 percent in May, up from 9.0 percent in April.
However, while declining unemployment is encouraging, the jobs numbers reported by the BLS were more ambiguous. There were 1,555,200 jobs in Oklahoma in May, an increase of a mere 3,500 from April. Over the past twelve months, the economy has added less than 22,000 jobs.
When the recession began in December 2007, Oklahoma had 1,578,100 jobs. Oklahoma ‘s employment low point occurred in February 2010 when Oklahoma had 61,400 fewer jobs than it did before the recession started. Now in May 2011, Oklahoma still has 22,900 fewer jobs.
The Economic Policy Institute has calculated that Oklahoma’s jobs deficit – or the difference between the number of jobs Oklahoma has and the number it needs to regain its pre-recession employment rate – is 80,000. That number includes the 22,900 jobs Oklahoma lost plus the 57,100 jobs it needs to keep up with the 3.6 percent growth in population that Oklahoma has experienced in the 41 months since the recession began.
As we discussed in this recent post, the discrepancy between the steep drop in the unemployment rate and sluggish growth suggests that while some workers are getting jobs, others are simply getting discouraged and are exiting the labor force entirely. Data that show greater numbers of long-term unemployed and a declining employment-to-population ratio suggest that more Oklahomans are joining the ranks of those who are neither working nor counted among the official ranks of the unemployed.
Despite our plunging unemployment rate, Oklahoma will not be truly out of the Great Recession until job growth is more robust and we have closed the jobs deficit.