While Oklahoma’s statewide unemployment rate dropped slightly in February, the gap between counties with low and high unemployment has widened.
The February unemployment rate in Sequoyah County was 11.4 percent, the highest in Oklahoma, the most recent data from the state Employment Security Commission show.
As you can see from the map — click around, it’s interactive! — unemployment rates are highest in Sequoyah and two other eastern counties, Latimer (11.2 percent) and LeFlore (10.5 percent).
Source: Oklahoma Employment Security Commission | Download Data
In January, the highest unemployment rate was 11.3 percent in Latimer County.
Oklahoma’s statewide unemployment rate dropped in February to 6.0 percent, a slight improvement from January’s 6.1 percent, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Historically, unemployment in Oklahoma gets worse as you move from the northwestern parts of the state and move to counties in the southeast, says John Carpenter, spokesman for the Employment Security Commission.
“It has to do with the population in the area, the types of jobs that are available and the mix of industries in the area,” he says.
While the worst poverty is often seen in southeastern parts of the state — like Choctaw County, for example — current unemployment figures are worse in counties that border Arkansas.
Many Oklahomans live in those eastern counties, but commute to the Fort Smith, Ark. area for work, Carpenter says.
“A lot of times when you see something going on Sequoyah County, that has a lot more to do with what’s going on in the Fort Smith area than it does really with anything that’s going on here in the state,” Carpenter says.
Fort Smith has a lot of manufacturing jobs, he says. When Sequoyah County temporarily moves up in the Oklahoma unemployment rate rankings, it’s often because manufacturers there have shut down production for maintenance or retooling, Carpenter says.
On the opposite end of the spectrum — and the state — the employment situation improved in the Roger Mills County, which had the lowest percentage of joblessness in both January and February.
The unemployment rate there decreased to 2.7 percent from 2.8 percent, data show.
Play with the map and leave a comment! What do you think is going on? Is there anything else at work here? Why are Oklahoma’s non-Arkansas border regions so much better when it comes to employment?