JOBLESS rate climbs in June

Friday, July 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ More Oklahomans were looking for work in June than in May, a sign the state's economy is slowing down like the rest of the nation, economists said Thursday.

Oklahoma's unemployment rate remains lower than the national average, which rose from 4.1 percent to 4.7 percent. From May to June, the state's jobless claims climbed from 2.9 percent to 3.3 percent.

The state has benefited from its prosperous energy sector and its lack of concentration in the industries, like manufacturing and technology, that have been hardest hit nationally, said Lynn Gray, an economist with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

``Oklahoma didn't enjoy the boom in these areas nearly as much as other states did _ but it also has not been nearly as affected by their decline,'' he said.

With energy prices falling, however, Oklahoma's outlook has dampened, said Robert Dauffenbach, director of the Center for Economic and Management Research at the University of Oklahoma's Price College of Business.

``My forecasting results have come down fairly dramatically,'' Dauffenbach said. ``The prospects for strong growth are not really going to be there this year.

``Let's hope the national economy turns around soon so our prospects can improve.''

In Oklahoma City, the unemployment rate shot from 2.6 percent to 3.5 percent from May to June, more than double any recorded increase between May and June since 1991.

Gray attributed the surge to temporary layoffs in the manufacturing sector.

``This isn't a permanent situation,'' Gray said. ``That's my guess, based on where the claims are coming from.''

Confidentiality agreements don't allow Gray to identify who's responsible for the layoffs. However, General Motors announced in May that as many as 2,500 of its 3,063 hourly workers would be placed on temporary layoff while its Oklahoma City plant undergoes a conversion.

More recently, Lucent permanently eliminated 1,018 jobs _ which were not counted in the June unemployment figures because they occurred late in the month. The unemployment sample is taken during the middle of each month, Gray said.

In Tulsa, unemployment rose from 2.7 percent to 2.8 percent.

Gray attributed the disparity to Tulsa's less-volatile job market, which hasn't experienced the temporary layoffs that Oklahoma City has.

Oklahoma's other two metropolitan areas, Enid and Lawton, posted no employment losses at all. Enid's jobless rate remained constant at 2.5 percent. Lawton's slid from 2.8 percent to 2.7 percent last month.

Gray and Dauffenbach agreed that any slowdown remains primarily concentrated in the manufacturing sector and that a recession, so far, has been avoided.

The nation posted 1.2 percent growth in the first quarter, and the second-quarter numbers are due out on Friday. Based on available estimates, Gray said, he expected second-quarter growth to be small _ less than 1 percent _ but still positive.

``If that number isn't negative, I think we have a pretty good chance of avoiding an official recession _ but there's little doubt we're in a slowdown,'' Dauffenbach said.