Carter County unemployment down to 5.5%, job search requirements reinstated this week

Michael D. Smith

Carter County unemployment fell to 5.5% in September and followed a statewide trend of lower jobless rates. September marked the third consecutive month that all Oklahoma counties saw jobless rates improve.

Last week also saw another drop in the number of weekly initial and continued jobless claims statewide. According to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, the four-week moving average for continued claims declined for the 18th consecutive week.

While unemployment continued to slide from record high levels early in the pandemic, rates remain nearly twice as high compared to a year ago, according to OESC data released on Wednesday.

Despite falling from the record high 18.3% in April, Carter County’s 5.5% unemployment rate was still among the highest in the state last month. Latimer County posted the state’s highest unemployment rate last month at 9.2%, while Cimarron County recorded the lowest county unemployment rate of 1.4%.

Oklahoma’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.3% last month, marked by monthly job gains in the professional and hospitality sectors, according to statewide OESC data released last week.

“The continued decline of unemployment claims is very promising for Oklahoma,” said OESC Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt in a statement announcing statewide data. “We are doing much better than the majority of other states in recovering from the devastating economic impacts of the pandemic. However, our agency remains focused on working to help Oklahomans who need it most.”

Work search requirements that were waived early in the pandemic have been reinstated this week. The requirements from the U.S. Department of Labor were suspended by OESC in an effort to help job seekers practice social distancing and isolation.

Oklahomans receiving unemployment benefits must now resume job searches and properly document their efforts in order to continue receiving that aid.

"This requirement had been in place prior to the pandemic and the timing to reinstate this requirement is right,” Zumwalt said. “Many companies are looking for seasonal and full-time employees right now. Still, we want people to be comfortable with rejoining the workforce and are making accommodations to the requirement for those who have medical concerns or issues that prevent them from returning to the workforce at this time."

The commission on Thursday also announced fees associated with balance inquiries charged by Conduent, the card issuer, have been dropped. Until Thursday, people receiving benefits on OESC debit cards were allowed five free calls to check their card's balance. After that fifth call, cardholders were charged 25 cents to call the automated system.

Zumwalt indicated in a Thursday statement that the waiving of the fees came after a study by lawmakers in the Oklahoma Senate last week. She said lawmakers who took part in the study "asked the right questions of Conduent’s representatives."

“I am pleased to see this change from Conduent, which will help our claimants who continue to need help accessing their unemployment benefits,” Zumwalt said. 

“In consideration of these unprecedented times, coupled with the historic rise in unemployment, the waiving of this fee allows Conduent to represent not only our commitment to our OESC partner but to the many Oklahomans who depend on the program,” said Paul Gates, general manager of Conduent.