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Low Oil Prices Restrain Job Growth in Energy-Rich States

Stagnant oil prices that have fallen by almost half over the last year continued to cut into regional job growth in April, when employment data again showed state losses where the energy industry is most active, according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Oklahoma, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming have reported consistent job losses in the mining and logging sector since the beginning of the year.  While U.S. unemployment dropped to a near seven-year low of 5.4% in April and nonfarm payrolls nationwide increased 223,000 to offset weakness in the mining sector, many job losses have been in the oil and gas industry.

Texas lost a six-year high of 8,300 jobs in the mining sector in April. In both Wyoming and North Dakota, the sector shed jobs for the fifth straight month.

The DOL said 11 states reported higher unemployment rates in April compared to March, including producing states West Virginia and Alaska. North Dakota, where oil and gas drilling in the Bakken Shale had propelled the state to the lowest jobless rate throughout the recession and up until February when it was unseated by Nebraska, posted the most significant job losses. The state's unemployment rate reached 3.1% in April, up 0.4% from the same time in 2014 when it was 2.7%.

Oklahoma and Texas added a combined 5,400 jobs in other sectors to offset energy-related losses, but the downturn’s economic impact has been evident in some states more than others. On Tuesday, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported that Texas manufacturers slowed their output in May for the third straight month, the longest period since the recession.

The manufacturing outlook survey polled 112 manufacturers and found that 28% decreased production, while orders were down for the seventh month in a row. Fed officials said the manufacturers attributed the slowdown to low oil prices.

In March, the consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. found that declining oil prices were responsible for 39,621 job cuts since the start of the year, or about 38% of all recorded workforce reductions nationwide during that time (see Daily GPI, March 5). Oil's steep fall since last June has prompted layoffs across the industry (see Shale Daily, May 22; Feb. 11; Feb. 4). 

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