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(The Center Square) – Oklahoma's recent score on the Mid-America Business Conditions Index indicates a strengthening economy that is returning to pre-pandemic levels.

The June index value for Oklahoma was 73.6, which was an increase from 68.9 the previous month. Index values greater than 50 indicate an expanding economy in the following three to six months, and those index values below 50 indicate a contracting economy.

"Oklahoma’s pre-pandemic index was registering close to neutral growth so the recent index value is a stronger reading as business confidence returns," Jon Chiappe, director, Research & Economic Analysis at Oklahoma Department of Commerce, told The Center Square. "Unemployment rates are decreasing and labor markets are tight, but there are more people returning to work. The tighter labor market has contributed to strong income gains, but inflation is a concern."

The index's inflation measure went up to 98.4 in June, exceeding the previous month's measure of 96.3.

Regional unemployment, which covers nine states including Oklahoma, is hovering around 4.1%, while the national average is 5% according to Public Radio Tulsa. Manufacturers and other employers said they plan to continue to increase hiring, seeing no layoffs for 2021.

"Since April 2020, which was the low point for Oklahoma’s employment after the pandemic, employment has grown by nearly 100,000 jobs but it has not fully recovered from the pandemic job losses," Chiappe said. "Looking forward with the Mid-America Business Conditions Indicator, job growth should continue in the next few months."

Though no industry in the economy was untouched by the effects of the pandemic, some of those industries are making significant progress in recovery.

"The largest gains since the pandemic occurred in some of the hardest-hit industries nationally, including leisure, hospitality and retail industries; however, in Oklahoma, non-durable manufacturing has gained 14% employment," Chiappe said.

Continuing challenges include supply chain bottlenecks, disruptions, transportation issues and rising input prices.