Gulf County unemployment reaches record lows

In the 30 years since Gulf County began tracking its unemployment rate, it has never posted as low as it did in April.

At just 1.9 percent, there were only 104 people listed as unemployed, despite workforce numbers having returned to near pre-Covid normals.

And while the rate for May was up just slightly, at 2 percent, the rate is still the lowest it has been in decades.

“Bolstered by the opening of the Eastern Shipyard in 2021, the continued explosion in new home starts, an ever growing tourist business, Gulf County posted an unemployment rate of 1.9% in April of 2022, the lowest rate ever,” siad Jim McKnight, the director of the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition.

Gulf County has had a volatile unemployment rate over the past three decades, with business closures, natural disasters and the pandemic, amidst periods of large growth, creating upticks.

The county’s highest unemployment rate occurred between 1996 and 1999, spurred by the closing of the St Joseph Paper Mill, the railroad and supporting chemical plants, that were among the county’s largest employers at the time.

A little less than a decade later, following the opening of Gulf Correctional Institution Annex, the unemployment rate dropped to 3.1 percent.

The property value crash in the mid-2000s and the Deep Horizon Oil Spill created an unemployment rate spike in 2011 and 2012. But following this, the unemployment rate trended down between 2012 to 2018 due to the “opening of Ascension Sacred Heart’s Gulf County hospital, the introduction of Deseret Cattle and Timber, a new home construction boom and ever-increasing tourism,” according to McKnight. 

The COVID-19 pandemic on the heels of Hurricane Michael caused an unemployment rate spike to 9 percent and decreased the labor force by 29 percent, due in great part to the closure of the Gulf CI Annex and Work Camp.

According to McKnight, the labor force is projected to continue to grow in Gulf County.

“The Labor Force grew by 153 during the last year and has increased 31 per month the last three months,” he said. “At this pace, the Labor force will exceed 6,000 in two years.”

Meet the Editor

Wendy Weitzel, The Star’s digital editor, joined the news outlet in August 2021, as a reporter covering primarily Gulf County.

Prior to then, she interned for Oklahoma-based news wire service Gaylord News and for Oklahoma City-based online newspaper during her four years at the University of Oklahoma, from which she graduated in May with degrees in online journalism and political science.

While at OU, Weitzel was selected as Carnegie-Knight News21 Investigative Fellow among 30 top journalism students from around the country. She also was senior editor managing a 12-person newsroom in coordination with Oklahoma Watch, a non-profit news organization in eastern Oklahoma.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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