By: Evan Onstot – KOCO – A Bureau of Labor Statistics chart says it all, Oklahoma was hit hard by the massive drop-off in the number of jobs right after the pandemic, and the shutdown that hit the state in March.
The number of Oklahomans with jobs has steadily grown since then, but what about the state’s cornerstone industry, oil, and gas?
Oklahoma City resident Jen Nance can explain.
“Wonderful company. absolutely loved everything about it,” she said of the oil and gas brokerage where she worked until COVID hit.
Nance now spends her days looking after her 2-year-old daughter in her home not far from Lake Hefner. Work dried up at her brokerage, where she worked as a landman, because of COVID’s hit on the industry.
“We were sent home, thinking it would be a week or two and we’d be back in the office. Unfortunately, here we are. Our last day was April 15,” she said.
Nance had been pulling double duty – working from home and taking care of her child while waiting for a rebound. Months later, she’s still waiting.
“Ideally, at some point, I feel like they will be able to bring our original team back,” she said.
Jobs in the mining and logging sector – which includes oil and gas – were down nearly 28% from September 2019 to September 2020 in Oklahoma. That’s the largest drop of any of the 11 industry groups the federal government tracks for the state. Nearly 100,000 Oklahomans remain unemployed.
“I do think the economy is capable of rebounding quickly. but we are at a critical point,” OU economics Professor Greg Burge said.
Burge said the current downtown is different from previous recessions in a key way. Others were across-the-board, while the current one has battered industries unevenly.
“We have not seen things like that in the past. Some sectors were completely shut down for multiple months,” Burge said. “In terms of a short-run impact, the bad news in the second quarter of 2020 was the worst on record.”
For oil and gas, the downturn has been about reduced travel, less commuting, and manufacturing cutbacks. That perfect storm impacts the entire economy of Oklahoma.
“You have a hit to the energy sector and maybe you see a few thousand people being laid off, those are good-paying jobs and those are all households that don’t do other things with those resources and then that affects a lot of Oklahoma industries,” Burge said.
Even though leisure and hospitality are fifth on the list of hard-hit industries, Burge said its downturn is unique.
Jim Hopper, president, and CEO of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association, likely would agree.
“I talked to numerous restaurants who, the day after they had to close their dining rooms in March, they had to lay off all their employees and all of a sudden people who had a steady income had zero income,” he said.
Hopper said the industry is rebounding but convincing nervous diners to return is critical.
“Being inside a restaurant to eat out is probably one of the safest places you can be indoors because they know what they’re doing,” he said.
However, some research has pointed to restaurant dining as a common source of COVID transmission.
As for oil worker Nance, she’s ready to get back to work, but she and so many of her colleagues have been here before.
“There is nothing,” she said of the job market in her field. “I don’t have any doubt that we will come back, but I don’t know when.”
According to the state, 261,000 Oklahomans were jobless during the shutdown in April.