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What's the demographic breakdown of Oklahoma's unemployed?



If you are a white male, between the ages of 25 and 34 and worked in an Oklahoma factory, there is a good chance you are now unemployed.

Those are the main characteristics of the average Oklahoman who is now receiving an unemployment check from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. The latest statistics from the commission show that of the more than 100,000 state residents filing an unemployment claim, the majority are young white men from the manufacturing sector.


"That is not typical of other recessions," said Paul Shinn, of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

"This may be the first recession where women are so heavily represented in the workplace."

Lynn Gray, director of economic research and analysis for OESC, said considering Oklahoma's main areas of income " oil and natural gas " the high proportion of out-of-work men fits the numbers.

"There are certain industries that hire more men than women," Gray said. "(That's) the mining industry when you are talking about oil and gas exploration. You will have a preponderance of male employment there versus females."

According to the June figures from the state, 64 percent of Oklahomans filing a claim with OESC are male.

"You are going to have more males working in manufacturing and more males typically in construction," Gray said. "When you have a recession, they tend to lay off in greater numbers than would, say, education, health care and government, where you are going to have a greater percentage of female employees."

Oklahoma's overall unemployment rate in July stood at 6.5 percent, compared to 9.5 percent for the country. But the rate is still much higher than a year ago.

"The conditions here are not nearly as poor as other parts of the country," Gray said, referring to some states that are dealing with double-digit unemployment rates. "We're one of the states that is weathering this better. We are feeling the impact, but it's not nearly as bad here as other places."

That doesn't mean the office is quiet, however.

"We've seen a tremendous increase in claims. It has been a real challenge for our agency, especially on the unemployment insurance side handling the workload. It's been difficult."

According to OESC, there were 1,386 claimant appeals decisions, of which 986 were claimant appeals and 400 were employer appeals. The original decision was reversed 303 times in favor of the claimant and 139 times in favor of the employer. Compare that to July 2008, when there were 873 total appeal decisions, with claimant appeals totaling 605 and 258 employer appeals. The original decision was reversed in favor of the claimant 140 times and in favor of the employer 86 times.

And while whites make up the majority of the jobless, proportionally it is lower than other ethnicities. Oklahoma's white claimants make up 66.4 percent of total claims, yet the state's white population composes 78.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Blacks encompass 11.8 percent of the unemployment yet comprise only 7.9 percent of state's population.

Oklahoma City University economics professor Jonathan Willner said even a small drop in ethnicity employment can have a huge effect.

"If two whites lose their jobs and two blacks lose their jobs, well, there's a heck of lot more whites working than blacks working, and proportionally that's a higher number of blacks losing their jobs than whites," Willner said.

The state's American Indian and Hispanic populations also have a higher percentage of unemployed in proportion to the total Oklahoma populace.

One typical aspect of the unemployment figures is the age groups without a job. The 25-34 segment has the highest percentage of jobless, closely followed by 45-54 then 35-44.

The No. 1 industry taking a hit is manufacturing. This sector makes up nearly 23 percent of jobless claims. The state reported more than 24,000 claims came from manufacturing. The next closest was administrative and support with more than 13,000 claims, or 12 percent.

"Manufacturing covers the gamut in terms of the products that are produced," Gray said. "One thing that a lot of people don't think about as manufacturing is the production of food, processed food products. That's all manufacturing."

As for the top occupation of unemployment, again a clear leader emerges in production. More than 23,000 claimants filed in this field, more than 21 percent of all claims.

But the big hits may be coming from the industries that pay higher wages.

"A lot of these industries that are in trouble, those are pretty good paying industries: construction, trucking, oil and gas," Shinn said. "Those are highly skilled jobs, and the pay is pretty good. That is a punch right into the middle-income bracket." "Scott Cooper


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