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Shrinking sector: Employment continues to drop in Oklahoma's information industry

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Director Kyle Roberts. right, talks to actors Rett Terrell, left, and Stephen Goodman during last year's filming of "The Grave" at PhotoArt Studios in Oklahoma City. Over the past 17 years, Oklahoma’s information industry continues to shrink. The sector includes careers in fields such as journalism, library management, book publishing, telecommunications and computer programming. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman]

Director Kyle Roberts. right, talks to actors Rett Terrell, left, and Stephen Goodman during last year's filming of "The Grave" at PhotoArt Studios in Oklahoma City. Over the past 17 years, Oklahoma’s information industry continues to shrink. The sector includes careers in fields such as journalism, library management, book publishing, telecommunications and computer programming. [Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman]

Employment in Oklahoma's information industry sank to its lowest point since before 1990 this April, while U.S. employment in the industry grew slightly.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, state employment in the industry shrunk 6.3 percent in April. That continues Oklahoma's 17-year trend of shrinkage in the industry, which includes careers in fields such as journalism, library management, book publishing, telecommunications and computer programming.

The industry grew at a faster pace in Oklahoma than the nation from 1990 to 2001, but both lost all of those gains by around 2012, said Lynn Gray, director of economic research and analysis at the Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission. Then, the U.S. recovered somewhat while Oklahoma continued to decline.

“The most likely reason is that our statewide information sector has a different composition than the national industry,” Gray said. “In 2012, the largest composition difference seems to be in regards to (the telecommunications subsector). It made up 45.8 percent of Oklahoma employment and only 31.7 percent of U.S. employment.”

The telecommunications subsector includes telephone operators and customer service representatives who work for phone and cable companies, in addition to telecommunications line installers and repairers.

Oklahoma diverges from US

There were 22,800 Oklahomans employed in the information industry in January of 2012, but only 19,500 were employed as of April, according to the bureau. Nationally, however, employment rose from 2.665 million to 2.769 million during this time.

The short explanation of this is that the industry is only a small piece of state and national employment, said Russell Evans, economist and executive director of the Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute at Oklahoma City University. Employment by the information industry as a share of total employment has decreased at both the state and national level since 2012, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Evans said Oklahoma's information industry is contracting because the state doesn't have any of the growing subsectors. The industry is made up of publishing, motion picture and sound recording, broadcasting, telecommunications, data processing, hosting and related services and other information services.

“At the U.S. level, growth in the information industry is coming from the motion picture and sound recording sector, the data processing sector and the other information services (internet publishing) sector,” Evans said in an email.

These growing subsectors include jobs in software development, acting, directing and internet publishing, among other things. The telecommunications subsector, however, lost jobs at the state and national level between 2012 and 2017, but the rate of decline was greater in Oklahoma, Gray said.

“This and the fact that it made up just under half of our total information employment was a significant reason for the growth discrepancy over the past five years or so,” Gray said.

In addition, the motion picture and sound recording subsector performed well — better than the information industry overall in the state and nation. But it makes up a larger share of information industry employment in the U.S. than in Oklahoma, he said.

The subsector composed of other information services also performed better than the industry overall and makes up a larger share of the nation's employment in the industry.

Still opportunity in sector

For recent college graduates or others who are entering the workplace for the first time in Oklahoma, Gray said he would not advise ruling out a career in the information sector despite the decrease.

“I'm confident that there are going to be occupations there that are growing,” Gray said. “And so a person could have a good career.”

However, he recommended being careful that the skill set that will be acquired from the job will be transferable to another industry if it does not work out. Additionally, he said high school counselors, parents and students should check the commission's long-term industry and occupational employment projections when making decisions about their careers or majors.

Oklahoma's employment in the industry peaked in November of 2001 at 38,000 and has had an overall trend of negative growth since, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. September of 2017 marked the first time it dipped below 20,000 since before 1990.

U.S. employment in the information industry was at its highest in March of 2001 at 3.718 million. It then shrunk annually until 2012, when it began to grow again, according to the bureau.

In Oklahoma, the information industry is the only industry that has experienced a decrease in employment so far in 2018. The civilian labor force has increased and unemployment has decreased in the state over the last year, according to the bureau.

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