Oklahoma currently employs about 1.7 million people, about the same number as in 2019 when the pandemic began, but career paths for many have changed due to changes in various industries, perhaps most notably in the energy industry.
According to a report released this week by the regional Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, changes in the total number of employees in Oklahoma across 52 industries have been noted over the past three years — and even in previous years.
By far the most significant decline in the total number of jobs was found in the sector that includes contract oil and gas services. According to the report, there are about 12,300 fewer such jobs in Oklahoma today than in 2019 — a 42% decrease. Other non-contract jobs in this sector, mostly related to oil and gas exploration, have fallen by about 4,000, or 21%.
In fact, both segments of Oklahoma’s major energy industry have seen job numbers decline for most of the past decade, the Fed has noted.
“Despite strong job gains over the past year, overall mining/energy employment in the state remains more than 40% lower than a decade ago, representing a loss of nearly 28,000 jobs,” the report said.
Other industries have created jobs.
Companies in transportation and warehousing, for example, have added 16,000 new jobs since 2019, an increase of 47%.
Employment gains were also recorded in the retail sector, restaurant sector, Native American tribe-owned businesses, employment agency services, accounting and payroll services, food manufacturing, loan origination and related jobs, construction equipment services, and insurance-related jobs.
Job losses were recorded in mechanical engineering, heavy and civil engineering, nursing and nursing, welding and metalworking, information/media, waste management and local government except tribal government.
Unfortunately, many of the industrial sectors that have created jobs are not paying off as well as those that have shed jobs.
“While it’s helpful to know which industries are growing or shrinking the fastest to understand current trends in Oklahoma’s economy, it’s also helpful to know how much those industries make compared to the median annual wage of $51,350 in the United States in 2021,” the report said. “Overall, as of 2019, the fastest-growing industries in the state are paying below-average wages, while those that are shrinking the most are paying above-average wages.”
Among the 10 industries in Oklahoma that created the most jobs over the past three years, the weighted average annual salary (adjusting for the size of the sectors) was $43,594 in 2021, below the state average. However, half of the industries paid above the national average, and two – transportation/warehousing and food manufacturing – paid only slightly below the average. The inclusion of lower-paying jobs in retail and hospitality, along with the larger size of those two industries, “drags the average down” for the group, the Fed said. Additionally, three of the state’s fastest-growing industries as of 2019 — accounting, banking, and insurance — pay an average of more than $68,000 annually, or more than 30% above the state average.
Looking at the 10 fastest shrinking industries in Oklahoma since 2019, the median annual wage was just over $56,000 in 2021, well above the state average. Only three – local government, nursing homes and other private service occupations – paid below average wages. The other jobs in the energy sector pay particularly high wages, and average wages in manufacturing, construction and information industries also exceeded the national average by a considerable amount.
The longer-term trend toward high productivity in these industries, reflected in higher wages, means sustained strong job growth will likely be difficult as fewer workers are needed to do the same amount of work, the Fed noted.
“While the state now employs nearly the same number of people as it did in 2019, the industries that many of them work in have changed,” said Chad Wilkerson, branch manager, vice president and economist at the Oklahoma City Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. “Employment in some sectors is still more than 10% below pre-pandemic levels, while employment in other sectors is up significantly from three years ago.”
The report can be viewed online at kansascityfed.org/oklahomacity/oklahoma-economist.