The unique challenges we face today could cause us to forget we are living in one of the most productive times in history, where jobs and opportunities abound for the Oklahomans willing to put time and effort into their chosen field of work. They are driving our economy forward. Former professional baseball player Same Ewing said it best when he asserted "hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don't turn up at all." In this time of uncertainty made works by policies that disincentivize work, we should be grateful for those that show up.
After the precarious lockdowns of last year, many Oklahomans have chosen not to return to the workforce. I acknowledge some may be frightened of the virus. I suspect many are complacent and have instead put their faith in federal unemployment benefits instead of contributing as a part of Oklahoma's workforce. The ramifications of their decisions could cost our state untold dollars in lost productivity if we do not correct the course now.
An informal review of job postings across the state today reveals there are enough jobs open in Oklahoma to meet the number of unemployed Oklahomans, yet open positions remain unfilled in Oklahoma. Most employers I speak with are struggling to find workers. One bright spot is the Oklahomans who are filling jobs are producing substantial output.
The State Chamber Research Foundation's Economic Competitiveness Index (ECI) ranks Oklahoma 16th in productivity. Conversely, Oklahoma ranks 34th out of 50 states in the labor participation rate. Without additional Oklahomans joining the workforce, we risk losing the productivity that drives a prosperous economy.
The Oklahomans showing up for work today are not only making a living for themselves and their families, they are also playing a key part in growing Oklahoma's economy during these unusual times. I encourage all business owners and operators across Oklahoma to thank their employees for showing up and turning up their sleeves to work. We all must thank the nurses, restaurant servers, gas station attendants, customer service representatives, child care workers and grocery store clerks and stockers for doing their part to keep our economy going. They truly are the engine driving Oklahoma's economy.
Note: this article was first published in The Journal Record on Sept. 10, 2021.