March 20, 2013

In Search of a Job

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Oil rig 3

Q: Does Oklahoma’s low unemployment mean finding a job is a cinch?

A: Compared with the nation, it would seem so. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate, seasonably adjusted, was 5.1 percent in January, compared with 7.9 percent for the nation. But take a closer look at the numbers.

When calculating unemployment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses six different rates,  U-1 through U-6. The number that gets the most attention is the U-3 rate, which is  unemployment based on people who are actively seeking work or recently lost work and expect to be called back to work.

The U-6 rating is a much broader picture. It counts not only the unemployed who are still looking for work but also those who got discouraged and gave up looking but still want a job. It also includes part-time workers who want full-time work and full-time workers whose hours were cut to part-time. These are the underemployed.

Oklahoma had a U-6 unemployment rate of 9.6 percent in 2012, with 59,300 underemployed on top of the 92,500 unemployed. The national U-6 unemployment rate for the year was 14.4 percent.

During times of job growth, many discouraged and underemployed workers resume their search for full-time jobs, so competition increases.

“It certainly makes it more competitive for any job that’s open,” said John Carpenter, spokesman for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. “[For) discouraged workers, it will be that much more competitive looking for a job.”

Oklahoma fared better than the nation in the Great Recession, which began in late 2007. The state’s jobless rate began rising earlier than the country’s and did not climb as high. Oklahoma’s rate peaked at 7.2 percent in December 2009 and January 2010. The national rate peaked at 10 percent in October 2009. Oklahoma’s rate has fallen in most months since.

Carpenter credited Oklahoma’s energy industry for keeping unemployment lower.

“It plays such a large part in our economic well-being as a state,” Carpenter said. “It sets us apart from other states.”