Two Years After Strict Immigration Reform, Oklahoma Is More Than OK

Given the economic damage inflicted on us by the current administration and many state governments, most readers of this column would probably be quite happy to live in a state where:

• The official unemployment rate in March was 6.6%.

• The average unemployment rate in 2009 using the most comprehensive definition was 10.5%, the fourth-lowest in the nation (behind three much smaller states), and far lower than the national average of 16.2%.

• The number of people either working or looking for work has actually grown during the past twelve months (in most states, the labor force has contracted significantly).

• The economy grew in 2008, and probably did so again in 2009.

Unless you live in Oklahoma, you're not in that state.

It "just so happens" that the Sooner State passed a strict immigration enforcement measure in May 2007, which went into effect six months later. Specifically:

House Bill 1804 was passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate of the Oklahoma legislature. The measure’s sponsor, State Representative Randy Terrill, says the bill has four main topical areas: it deals with identity theft; it terminates public assistance benefits to illegals; it empowers state and local police to enforce federal immigration laws; and it punishes employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.

Oklahoma is no longer “O.K.” for illegal aliens, Terrill observes. “When you put everything together in context,” he contends, “the bottom line is illegal aliens will not come here if there are no jobs waiting for them, they will not stay here if there is no government subsidy, and they certainly won’t stay here if they know that if they ever encounter our state and local law enforcement officers, they will be physically detained until they’re deported. And that’s exactly what House Bill 1804 does.”

An amazing animated graphic (still available at The Mess That Greenspan Made) shows what happened in the immediate wake of 1804's passage. It shows month-by-month changes in the unemployment rate for each state in the lower 48 states. From March 2007 to March 2008, alone among all states, Oklahoma's unemployment rate fell significantly, especially in the final few months of the 12-month period presented -- the first few months after 1804 went into effect.

Coincidence? Well, if fewer jobs are available to illegals, you would expect that lesser-skilled individuals shut out of the labor market by low, often under-the-table wages would be in a position to take them. Sadly, blacks and Hispanics in this country and in Oklahoma are likely to be disproportionately represented among the lesser-skilled, so looking at those groups' unemployment rates will serve as a useful proxy.

Here are the facts:

Newly released numbers for 2009 show the unemployment rate for black Oklahomans is 11.1 percent, compared with 5 percent for whites and 7.4 percent for Hispanics. In 2008, black unemployment in the state was 8.7 percent, while the rate for whites was 2.9 percent and the rate for Hispanics was 9 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Shannon Muchmore at the Tulsa World had a reaction that was sadly and predictably ignorant:

The unemployment rate for black people in Oklahoma is twice as high as the rate for white people, and Hispanics face a similar disparity that exists regardless of education, training, or experience, data show.

Just a minute, Ms. Muchmore.