Oklahomans trying to go back to work, worry about being forced to take lower paying jobs compared to what they had before pandemic layoffs

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahomans trying to go back to work post-pandemic said they are worried Tuesday about having to apply for jobs that pay far less than what their pre-pandemic jobs paid before they were laid off.

Help wanted signs dot windows across town. However, several folks who say they were laid off due to the pandemic said they’re now forced to take significant salary cuts as they reenter the workforce.

“We’ve had to adapt, and we’ve been adapting, and we’ve been looking for positions, but there’s just nothing out there,” said Staci Beaver, a woman who worked in the oil and gas industry for three decades but is now working as an insurance saleswoman.

“I’m applying for stuff $10-$15 below what I’m used to,” said Joni Williams, a woman still unemployed and finding no luck in the current job market.

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Statistics show that Oklahomans are going back to work right now with the unemployment rate dropping over 9 percent since April 2020 when COVID-19 shocked the world. Over 79,000 Oklahomans are still unemployed right now. However, in April of 2020, that number was over 220,000.

“We’re people that have worked for 35 to 40 years,” Beaver said. “We want to get back to work.”

“It’s frustrating and upsetting and depressing,” Williams said.

Joni Williams of Enid said it hasn’t been happy hunting. She hasn’t had an interview for a job in six months. Just over one year ago she was making $26 per hour. Now, with two kids at home, one of them in college, she said she may have to find a job that doesn’t pay even remotely close.

“I’ve applied to everything that there’s available here,” Williams said. “I went back to school and did further my education, did go to trade school and all these things so I wouldn’t have to do that.”

For Beaver, she racked up three decades in the oil and gas industry making good money. Now, after being laid off last March, she’s forced into a job as an insurance saleswoman on commission. According to Beaver, she isn’t sure what bread she’ll bring home day to day.

“I’m not a salesman, I don’t have any qualifications for that,” she said. “There’s a lot of issues.”

Both Beaver and Williams said it’s been quite the struggle.

“During all of this we lost a vehicle,” Beaver said.

“I have no savings, it’s gone,” Williams said. “Everything I had is gone.”

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission sent KFOR a statement saying there are 37 percent more job openings right now compared to before the pandemic. The full statement is as follows:

“We have heard from all kinds of employers in various industries that they are in need of people to return to the workforce – everything from engineering to healthcare, hospitality to oil & gas/energy, and government to aerospace. The state currently has 37% more job openings than there were pre-pandemic and the most job openings since this data point started being tracked in 2001. There are high-paying jobs available now – in fact, OESC is currently hosting a virtual career fair with more than 115 employers taking part and representing more than 3,200 open positions. We encourage Oklahomans to participate in the virtual career fairs, as well as to take advantage of the $1,200 Return-to-Work Incentive for those claimants worried about federal benefits ending. This incentive is available to the first 20,000 eligible applicants so we encourage claimants to apply as soon as possible. OESC is placing top priority on helping claimants find stable employment or retraining opportunities. We have 28 offices across the state ready to help all of the state’s citizens who are eligible to work but currently are not working and the hundreds of employers who are struggling to find employees.”

SHELLEY ZUMWALT, OESC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

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However, those still on the hunt for work or that have found work not in their original career said high paying jobs just are not there.

“This is what we’ve worked for, it’s our home, we have a vehicle. We can’t just lose everything,” Beaver said.

“I just don’t want the state to forget about us people who are not in the city or Tulsa,” Williams said.

Right now, Oklahoma has a just over 4 percent unemployment rate. Oklahoma City though, has the fourth highest unemployment rate of cities with more than one million people.

It’s important to note that Gov. Kevin Stitt chose to opt out of federal unemployment benefits. That goes into effect June 27.

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