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Quarterly Workforce Observations - October 2020

Trends and Issues

Layoffs of employees that are already fully furloughed do not show up in unemployment figures, but are important in that they are employees who are now permanently laid off as opposed to temporary furloughs. Restaurants, Hotels, and Retail figure greatly in this.

Major construction projects are still occurring (Omni Hotel, OKC Convention Center, MAPS projects, Roads and Bridges, Vast Bank, WPX building, Heartland building, etc.) since they operate on a long lead time. They will start decreasing next year and will be late in recovering.

Latest hot new jobs are Director of Remote Work and Manager of Remote Work.

Two large current issue are:

  • The combination of children, school, daycare and work.
  • Changing careers away from the Oil, Retail, and Hospitality industries.

Within Oil and Gas are three sectors that have experienced large layoffs: upstream, services, and manufacturing. The upstream and services layoffs technically were concentrated in Oklahoma City, but the employees were scattered across the state. The manufacturing layoffs were concentrated in Tulsa, Duncan, and Oklahoma City.

Realities and Statistics

Federal statistics often do not show parts of industries segregated by what is really happening.

Some industries appear to still be hiring, both ones not affected by COVID (Local Banking, Home Health Care, Military, Military Related Aerospace) and ones growing because of COVID (Last Mile Delivery, Trucking, Internet Warehousing and Fulfillment, Grocery, Small Meat Processors).

Aerospace is diverging along two different paths. Commercial aerospace (Spirit AeroSystems, American Airlines and their subcontractors) has suffered major reductions in workforce, while military related aerospace (Boeing OKC, Kratos, Tinker and Altus AFB) are continuing to hire, and in some cases are experiencing shortages of qualified candidates (especially engineers). A difficult situation for re-employing workers is that the commercial aerospace layoffs have been concentrated in Tulsa and eastern Oklahoma, while the military related hiring is in Oklahoma City and western Oklahoma.

How are unemployment rates this low when the economy does not seem to have recovered yet?

Let’s compare Oklahoma to our neighbor to the south. Oklahoma’s unemployment rate in August was 5.7% and Texas was 6.8%. On that basis we appear better, but….

Oklahoma’s labor force declined 0.6% year over year and Texas labor force increase 2.0% year over year.

Oklahoma’s labor force participation rate for August was 60.1% and Texas labor force participation rate was 64.4%.

Oklahoma had 4.3% fewer people interested in a job than Texas. Does that make our low unemployment rate seem artificial?

Over the last five years Oklahoma’s labor force participation rate has declined from 61.6% to 60.1%!
Over the last five years Texas’s labor force participation rate has increase from 63.6% to 64.4%!

A couple of final thoughts:

Something that is not included in the employment figures is a decrease in income by currently employed individuals. Examples being commission based sales, professions like accounting, etc. If their business volume decreases, they may still be employed but not making as much income.

Some WARN notices overstate the number being laid off. If the company is not sure of the number, they use a high number to ensure they cover 100% of the potential laid off. Several major companies have done that recently, including P.F. Chang and American Airlines.


Statistical information taken from: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Wall Street Journal