Why is Oklahoma's economy more than OK these days?
The latest piece of evidence supporting that truth arrived on Friday, when Uncle Sam's Bureau of Labor Statistics released April's Regional and State Unemployment Summary.
The report tells us that Oklahoma had a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 6.6% last month. That's far lower than the 9.9% reported for the entire USA two weeks ago. No state with a larger population has a lower unemployment rate than the Sooner State (states with lower April unemployment rates were KS - 6.5%; NE at 5.0%; ND - 3.8%; SD - 4.7%; and VT - 6.4%).
As seen in the chart below, Oklahoma's unemployment rate has been significantly lower than the national rate for well over two years, and on average in 2009 was that way across all major ethnic groups (source data for 2006 to 2009 can be accessed here; scroll down to "Annual Average Statewide Data"):
Especially note that:
- The average unemployment rate for Hispanics in Oklahoma, which had been higher than the national average, went down significantly in 2009, coming in 4.7 points lower than the national average.
- The black unemployment rate in Oklahoma went from higher than its national average to significantly lower between 2007 and 2009.
Unemployment isn't the only good-looking economic indicator. The state's gross domestic product grew by 2.7% in 2008, the most recent year available, while national GDP that year grew by only 0.4%. "Traditional" welfare enrollment (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is about 0.6% of the population, well below the national average. Per-capita personal income is higher than it was two years ago (+2.8%); nationwide, it's lower (-0.7%).
So why has this happened?
The first of two too-easy explanations posited by commenters at my Pajamas Media column last week was that the Sooner State, as an economy dominated by the oil industry, has disproportionately benefitted from high prices. The trouble is, contrary to the stereotype, the state is not dominated by oil, as this industry-specific itemization of the state's workforce several years ago shows. The second explanation attempt, to pin the state's good fortune on agriculture, was even worse than the first; that same link shows that only 2% of the state's workers are in that sector.
Oklahoma did one thing in 2007 that broke with the rest of the nation. In May of that year, it passed a significant immigration law-enforcement measure that took effect six months later. House Bill 1804 was designed to do four things: deal with identity theft; terminate public assistance benefits to illegals; empower state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws; and punish employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
The establishment press barely covered Oklahoma's law when it was passed. As the manufactured controversy over Arizona' immigration-law enforcement measure has gained currency, that avoidance has continued, accompanied by occasional doses of disinformation. The worst example I have seen of the latter came in late April from Sally Kohn at the Christian Science Monitor. Kohn cited an unnamed "study" claiming that "the bill led to an estimated 50,000 people fleeing Oklahoma and a 1.3 percent drop in economic output statewide." As shown earlier, the economy grew in 2008 (and probably will do so again in 2009). Additionally, Census Bureau data shows that the state's population is rising in tandem with the rest of the nation.
Kohn, a "Chief Agitation Officer of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank," also compounded error with insult, asserting that the state is "littered with crumbling farms and factories and aging populations who feel that any prospect of prosperity is passing them by." A few states, including California (unemployment rate - 12.6%), Florida (12.0%), Michigan (14.0%), and my native Ohio (10.9%), would dearly love to endure the so-called "crumbling" Oklahoma is experiencing.
None of the above constitutes courtroom-level proof that "1804" has caused the Sooner State to weather the economic storm so much better than the rest of the nation. But what other explanation remains?
I did find one interesting reference to Oklahoma in a May 18 Associated Press story ("Immigrant crossings into Arizona on the rise"):
Gonzalo Altamirano, a 19-year-old mechanic from the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, jumped over a fence into Arizona from Agua Prieta. He surrendered to authorities after waiting two days for a van that never arrived.
It was Altamirano's second time crossing illegally into the United States - he lived and worked in Oklahoma for nine months in 2007 before getting so homesick he returned to Mexico. He intends to try again.
Does anyone besides me question whether Mr. Altamirano was really "homesick"? Further, does anyone think he'll be heading back to Oklahoma if he is successful in getting past ICE next time?
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.