Plunging oil prices haven’t affected employment so far

Plunging oil prices haven’t affected employment so far

OKLAHOMA CITY Cheap oil overseas is roiling Oklahoma’s biggest industry, forcing layoffs by energy companies and, indirectly, ripping open a hole in the state budget.

But the state’s job market has been unusually stable, experts said this week, propped up by other areas.

Thousands of Oklahomans who were laid off amid plunging oil prices have found new jobs. The state’s energy industry shed more than 12,000 jobs last year or 19.3 percent of its work force as other sectors of the economy hired new workers.

The biggest areas of growth were in construction, retail and hospitality, said Lynn Gray, chief economist for Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

As a result, the state’s unemployment rate ticked down a tenth of a percent to 4.1 percent at the end of the year. The number of unemployment claims also dropped by nearly 2,000 since July, ending the year cheap jerseys at 19,000.

The national unemployment rate in December was 5 percent.

“It’s striking what we’re seeing,” Gray said. “When the Census Bureau is doing the survey, they’re finding more people are employed. It is an interesting finding, but the economy is more diverse than it was a generation ago.”

Gray’s staff still is trying to determine which industries are hiring oil and gas workers, in part to see whether their new jobs pay as much as their old ones.

Data suggest paychecks are getting smaller, however.

The average weekly wage in Oklahoma’s private sector dropped about $3.60 during last year to $755.59. The mining and logging industry, which includes oil and gas companies, reports its average weekly wage fell from $1,259 to $1,177.

A Federal Reserve analysis found workers who’ve left the industry have been able to find similar paying work, though perhaps because their hours at energy companies already were reduced.

Still, individual income tax receipts are down moderately from a year ago, according to the analysis, despite little change in the state’s unemployment rate. That suggests workers are making less money.

Those findings wrapped up an especially bloody year for Oklahoma’s oil and gas industries, which shed workers in the face of an international glut of oil that sent prices tumbling into the low $30 per barrel range. By the end of December, the industry employed just fewer than 51,000 Oklahomans.

“A lot of those workers have been able to find jobs in other industries because unemployment has been low in this state,” said Chad Wilkerson, Oklahoma City branch executive for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

That alone makes this downturn in the energy sector a little different than those in years past, he said, The economy is slightly more diverse than it was 30 years ago, though it remains heavily dependent on the success of oil and gas.

Wilkerson said as the economic difficulties in Oklahoma’s energy industry continue, he expects slowing to creep across all other areas of the state’s economy except perhaps in the health care field, where demand for workers continues to grow.

Energy companies say they expect to employ fewer people this year than last, as they bide time for the day oil prices rebound back to $50 a barrel, he said.

Wilkerson recently surveyed 40 energy firms more than half of those in Oklahoma and found most anticipate their activity will continue to decline in the near future.

Companies say they need prices to reach $60 a barrel before they’ll increase operations again, he said. They don’t expect prices will rebound that much until the end of 2017.

“Firms don’t expect to increase activity until late 2017, or they don’t expect to be profitable until late 2017,” he said. “That’s probably too long for some firms not to be making money.”.

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