State Senate Study Looks At Why Oklahomans Are Not Returning To Work

Beverly Cantrell - September 23, 2021 6:20 am


Oklahomans are not returning to low-paying jobs and state lawmakers are now trying to figure out how to solve the problem.

Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is returning to pre-pandemic levels after soaring in April of last year.

However, the Oklahoma Policy Center told the Senate Business, Commerce and Tourism Committee Tuesday, industries that pay lower wages such as leisure and hospitality, food service and transportation industries are struggling to regain employees.

The interim study led by State Sen. Carrie Hicks, D-OKC, looks at factors like child care, the minimum wage, and unemployment benefits.

“My big ask was that people come to the study today with an open mind,” Hicks said.

The state’s unemployment rate currently sits at 3.2%, which is the same rate the month before the COVID-19 pandemic rocketed the rate to 13%.

One common thought is enhanced unemployment benefits were paying people too much discouraging them from going back to work.

“Ending benefits has little to no impact on unemployment,” Josie Phillips with the Oklahoma Policy Institute said. “One study estimated that states that did cut benefits early saw approximately 2% of an increase in employment relative to states that didn’t.”

Lawmakers also discussed the role affordable child care plays in getting adults back on the job.

“I was unaware that Oklahoma has some of the most stringent licensing requirements for a license for child care facilities in the country, so it kind of stands to reason maybe we’ve gone too far,” Hicks said.

Another new pull on the job market is the state’s booming medical marijuana industry.

“If the marijuana industry is paying $14-$15 an hour it makes strong economic sense for an individual to choose that type of job over something that’s just paying $7.25, which is still currently our minimum wage here in Oklahoma.”


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