Lawton_Oklahoma officials say the state's funds for unemployment benefits are in better shape than a majority of the nation's states. 32 states say they do not have the amount of money in their unemployment trust funds that the government says they should. The money pays for unemployment benefits. The National Employment Law Project says six states - including California and New York - are almost out of funds entirely. Another six states are facing challenges in paying jobless benefits. However, Oklahoma is not one of them.
There are two types of funds used to help those looking for jobs. There is Employment Services Funding, which goes to centers such as Workforce Oklahoma to help people find jobs. There also is Unemployment Insurance Funding, which pays for individuals' unemployment checks.
About 15-25 people file for unemployment with the Lawton Office of Workforce Oklahoma each day, and the state can provide jobless benefits because Oklahoma has one of the healthiest unemployment funds in the country. Director of Oklahoma Employment Security, Richard McPherson says Oklahoma has more than $600 million in its trust fund. "We have no problem with that, but there are some states that have to borrow from the federal government in order to pay out their benefits."
Other states will likely need to borrow more with a declining national economy, but McPherson says Oklahoma is in good shape. "Even with the downturn of the economy, we could sustain a depressed economy, probably for a pretty long period of time," he said.
Manager of Lawton's unemployment office, Charles Sutterfield, says the local situation is stable as well. "We haven't seen that downturn - we're bucking the national average," he said. "Their [other states'] unemployment's going up. Ours is staying steady or going down a little bit."
Oklahoma unemployment is at 4-5% which Sutterfield says is essentially full employment since the typical number of people transitioning from job to job is about that percentage. McPherson says that it also helps that Oklahoma's economy is diverse, and is not only based in energy and agriculture. "Technology, bio-tech, construction - there are a lot of industry sectors, and that's really helped diversify our economy."
However, Oklahoma is coming up short on funding for employment services to help get workers trained and into jobs. "It affects our staffing," said Sutterfield. "Over the past couple of years, we've lost several staff members due to lack of funding." Lawton's unemployment office dropped from 25 employees in 1995, to only nine. 16 who were working to help find jobs for others had lost their own employment.
McPherson says that employment services have always been federally funded, and they are now determining whether they can have the state provide supplemental assistance for funding Workforce and other agencies.
If you are unemployed and need placement assistance, contact Workforce Oklahoma in Lawton at 580-357-3500. They have jobs skills workshop classes, and also offer a GED program.
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