Statistical information put together this month by David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, shows the Oklahoma economy is on the upswing.
In his recent update of OK Policy’s “Numbers You Need,” Blatt shows initial unemployment claims dropped in February and were 12 percent lower than the previous year. Meanwhile, Blatt notes, “While participation in key work support and safety net programs continues to rise, the pace of growth may finally be slowing.”
But Blatt also cautions, “However, as an indicator that a full recovery remains in the distance, the state’s unemployment rate remained unchanged in February at 6.7 percent (it has since fallen to 6.6 percent in March).
Blatt also gives a breakdown on the recent upswing in state revenues noting that both personal income and natural gas tax revenues are on the rise. These are two strong signs that the economy is improving.
Blatt also notes that personal income growth was up 1.2 percent here in the fourth quarter of 2009. Blatt writes, “This represents the strongest quarter of growth since mid-2008 and marked the third straight quarter since the worst of the downturn that personal income has risen. Oklahoma’s growth rate outpaced the national average (0.9 percent) and ranked 6th in the nation.
The “Numbers You Need” document also discusses inflation and per capita income.
Although the economy continues to improve, state agencies face severe cuts because of the major budget crisis for next fiscal year. State employees have been furloughed. Teachers could face massive layoffs, according to education officials. Mental health and social services officials have recently outlined some of the human suffering that will be caused by budgets cuts of 10 percent.
It’s a tragic picture in a relatively poor state that has systemic problems with poverty and low college graduation rates.
Blatt, a well-respected budget analyst, has also outlined some ways the state can raise revenues. You can read about his suggestions here. OK Policy is a think tank that focuses on poverty and asset building.