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Oklahomans struggle to find high-paying jobs, 5 weeks before federal unemployment benefits end

Posted at 7:04 PM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-20 10:35:48-04

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission is tracking recent results of a return-to-work push, and they are not looking good.

“We're not seeing people return in the volume we would have hoped to by now," said Shelly Zumwalt, OESC executive director.

Zumwalt said it's been a challenge to get Oklahomans back to work after the pandemic. She stresses there are jobs out there, but turnout at recent job fairs has been low.

One OESC event saw only 360 people with 7,500 jobs up for grabs. Zumwalt and Gov. Kevin Stitt are hoping the state's recently announced Return to Work Incentive Program will help motivate people.

Read more: 'Cutting a safety net of time': Oklahomans respond to governor's new workforce plan

Focusing on the city of Broken Arrow, 150 job seekers attended a career fair at the chamber of commerce on Wednesday. Staff said they are happy with that turnout. However, when comparing it to the number of local available jobs, there is a big gap.

Online at, there is a list of 900 jobs posted within the last two weeks.

“We have everything from entry level to professional careers here,” said Amber Smith, workforce development manager of the Broken Arrow Chamber.

Smith helped coordinate Wednesday’s career fair, which gave local employers and potential candidates the chance to meet in one spot.

“It's a really cool opportunity that I can just drive up to Main Street and get a chance to talk to those businesses where I might not have otherwise. I'm hoping for a job,” Levi Copelin said.

One recruiter described the fair as the busiest one she has attended recently.

“You see more people actually looking and wanting to come out to find different positions,” said Brandi Hall, staffing coordinator of the Franciscan Villa.

For many job seekers, the problem is pay. Most of the jobs being offered in Broken Arrow are in the $22-69,000 yearly salary range. A bulk of them do not go past $30,000.

“That's my issue. Trying to find a job I can live on,” Kirsten Stovall said.

Stovall, a single mother of three teens, is determined to find a job with higher pay. One that provides at least $20 an hour.

“Some of these jobs that I apply for, they want a bachelor's degree and years and years of experience, and they’re like $14 an hour,” she said.

Other job seekers like Stovall feel the governor's new workforce plan is forcing them into low-paying jobs. She also says she will settle with what she can get, if it comes to that.

For now, the search is still on.

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