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OKC shows nation's largest unemployment increase over year

Reflections of the downtown skyline can be seen in the windows on the front of this home near NW 7 and Dewey. The city has plans to give Red Andrews Park, on NW 8 between Lee and Shartel,  a makeover.  Residential housing development in the neighborhood (called SOSA), where modern homes have sprung up to take advantage of nice downtown views.  Photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Reflections of the downtown skyline can be seen in the windows on the front of this home near NW 7 and Dewey. The city has plans to give Red Andrews Park, on NW 8 between Lee and Shartel, a makeover. Residential housing development in the neighborhood (called SOSA), where modern homes have sprung up to take advantage of nice downtown views. Photo taken Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City had the largest increase in unemployment over the year among large metropolitan areas in the United States, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Labor Department.

Unemployment in the Oklahoma City metro area grew by 1.2 percentage points over the year, according to Labor Department numbers.

In September, Oklahoma's unemployment rate crept up three-tenths of a percentage point to 4.7 percent.

It's important to keep Oklahoma City's job losses over the past year in perspective, said Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

"While our economy as a whole is sluggish due to oil and gas prices, other cities were kind of in recovery mode. When you put us up against other communities, that's what you see," Williams said.

Williams said large employers surveyed by the chamber still show optimism for growth in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City's 4.7 percent unemployment rate in September is still relatively low, he said.

"In reality, 4.7 is not a horrible number — it is what it is, but it's not that bad," Williams said.

Oklahoma City continued to lose energy sector jobs in September, but the employment declines have slowed and stabilized over the past few months.

The mining and logging sector, which is primarily energy-related jobs in Oklahoma, lost 100 jobs in September, a 0.7 percent decline.

For the year ending in September, Oklahoma City has lost 3,400 energy sector jobs, a 18.5 percent decline.

Oklahoma City's job growth was flat for the 12 months ending in September, according to establishment survey data, gaining only a net 300 jobs over the year.

In September, Oklahoma City still managed to add 2,700 jobs over the month, a 0.4 percent increase.

Across the state, Oklahoma has seen unemployment increases primarily because of the number of long-term unemployed, said Lynn Gray, chief economist for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance are down around 15 percent from last year and continuing claims are down 4 percent to 5 percent from last year, Gray said.

"It looks like those individuals unemployed 52 weeks or longer is where we are seeing the real growth in the ranks of unemployed," he said.

While energy and manufacturing jobs took the hardest hit initially from the decline in oil and gas prices, service sector and retail jobs such as restaurant work are now also showing declines, Gray said.

"It's not surprising that we would eventually see industries that are really dependent on disposable income hit in this recession," he said. "We are really starting to see it cycle through other parts of the economy now."

Unemployment rates were up over the year in September for nearly all of Oklahoma's 77 counties, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

Stephens County in southwestern Oklahoma posted Oklahoma's highest county unemployment rate in September at 10.4 percent.

Cimarron County in the Panhandle claimed the lowest county unemployment rate at 2.8 percent.

Unemployment rates were higher than a year earlier in 76 of 77 counties and lower in one county.

Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›

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