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Job Losses Driven by COVID-19 Pandemic Likely Undercounted, Affect Oklahomans Differently

Tim Mossholder

Job losses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn may be greater than previously thought.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Chief Economist Lynn Gray said the state unemployment rate for April was officially 13.7% but should be about 17% because some COVID-related job losses were classified differently by the U.S. Department of Labor until last month.

Job losses are not affecting all groups of Oklahomans equally, either. Gray said women in the state are out of work at a higher rate than men are.

"Typically, recessions hit cyclical industries like manufacturing, construction, oil and gas, and they employ a lot more men than they do women. And so, typically, you would see during the onset of recession the male unemployment rate increasing faster and being higher than that for females," Gray said.

People without a high school diploma are the most likely to have lost their jobs. Their unemployment rate is about 20%.

The state’s average income could end up artificially inflated because full-time workers are losing jobs at a slower rate than part-time ones.

"Not that these people are getting raises, the people that are still employed, but if the part-time employees are losing their job at a greater rate, then the average would likely increase, just because of the composition," Gray said.

A higher average income could lead employers to pay more in job insurance taxes to support the state’s unemployment trust fund.

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