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Oklahoma's monthly unemployment rate climbs in July, additional dollars are on the way and 5 Things to Know about unemployment in Oklahoma

Shoppes at Cheyenne Ridge stay busy in Edmond on Thursday. Despite an uptick in unemployment, state officials said Friday they are encouraged by the efforts Oklahoma businesses are making as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Shoppes at Cheyenne Ridge stay busy in Edmond on Thursday. Despite an uptick in unemployment, state officials said Friday they are encouraged by the efforts Oklahoma businesses are making as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma had fewer jobs available and a higher percentage of unemployed workers in July.

The state's unemployment rate was 7.1% for the month, slightly worse than the 6.4% rate in June, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The percentage isn’t surprising, given weekly updates issued by state and federal officials show thousands of Oklahomans either remain under-employed or out of a job entirely.

Thursday, officials said 117,141 Oklahomans were drawing continued assistance for unemployment insurance during the week ending Aug. 8.

More than 5,000 filed initial claims for unemployment insurance during the week ending Aug. 15. Continual elevated levels of initial claims mean there are steadily between 5,000 and 10,000 unresolved claims each week as the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission processes new claims.

But, the agency has processed 800,000 claims since March 1, distributing about $2.8 billion in state and CARES Act-prescribed benefits along the way. And Oklahoma’s 7.1% rate is tied for being the 11th lowest state unemployment rate in the nation — the nation’s unemployment rate for the month was estimated at 10.2% — with only Arkansas and Missouri matching or beating that mark when it came to surrounding states.

Additional dollars coming

Work began Monday night to create a system that will be used to provide unemployed Oklahomans with an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits.

The money is from a $44 billion appropriation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to support a Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program. The program was created by President Donald Trump through an executive order.

The biggest bump anyone in Oklahoma will see in a weekly check will be $300 (before taxes), as Oklahoma will provide its required match using money already included in an individual’s weekly payment from his or her state unemployment insurance account.

Any person with a weekly unemployment benefit of less than $100 won’t qualify to receive the additional help, a technicality analysts said would leave many low-wage earners out in the cold.

State officials have said they don’t expect that will be an issue for most people drawing assistance in Oklahoma.

On Friday, Shelley Zumwalt, interim director of the OESC, said it will take time for the agency to create a system claimants can use to access that help, but added the agency is working as quickly as it can to get it established.

Zumwalt said the money Oklahoma disburses for LWA must be kept separate from the trust fund dollars used to fund its unemployment insurance program, noting that eligibility requirements also are entirely different.

“The only thing that benefit has in common with the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Benefit (the CARES Act-provided $600 a week) is that they both have two zeros in them,” she said. “It is a completely new compensation category, a completely new denomination and a completely new funding category — a lot more complicated than people realize.”

Once the system is set up, the benefit will be retroactive to Aug. 1.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, but we remain committed to getting Oklahomans the help they need — and to get them back into our workforce safely,” she said.

Five things to know

• An unprecedented number of people lost their jobs since the outbreak of COVID-19, driving up unemployment and the statewide unemployment rate.

• Oklahoma's rate in July was tied for being the 11th lowest rate in the nation, despite the elevated numbers of unemployed Oklahomans.

• July's rate was 3.8 percentage points higher than July 2019.

• Any Oklahoman who is laid off of a job or has his or her hours cut to fewer than 32 per week can apply for assistance at ui.ok.gov.

• State officials said earlier this week it would take about four to five weeks to create the system used to distribute the LWA funds.

Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›

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