he good news splashes across the local newspapers: Tulsa's jobless rate is down to 3 percent--virtually full employment.
The just-released figures are a source of pride here, justifying the oft- heard contention that anybody who wants to work can find work in Tulsa.
But Curtis Thomas isn't celebrating. Indeed, Thomas, 23, black and bitter, is talking seriously about giving up on this oil-rich town and going back home to New York City. Thomas, a one-time messenger in Wall Street, has no job, no real skills and very little hope.
"I've got to have something that pays at least $4.75 an hour to make it by myself," he told a reporter for the Tulsa World. "I can't be horsing around with no minimum wage or $4- an-hour jobs."
It's easy to be ambitious in Tulsa, where oil money produces so much well-paid work, both directly and indirectly, as in construction jobs on the oil-spawned office towers that are changing the city's skyline. Indeed, unemployment in Oklahoma generally, and Tulsa and Oklahoma City in particular, has been far below the national average for years. That is what attracted Thomas here in the first place.
The national unemployment rate is 7.5 percent. In Washington, D.C., noted for its employment stability, the jobless rate for August climbed to 10 percent. In New York City, to which Thomas is thinking of returning, it was 8.4 percent in September.
But for people like Thomas, with high hopes and low skills, Tulsa is just another hard town.
He came here after graduating from high school and spending three years in the Army medical corps. He had hoped to learn a civilian skill during his Army hitch, he said, but couldn't get the "cross training" he sought. On his arrival here, he found only a series of "nothing" jobs: busboy, gas station attendant, fabric cutter, shipping clerk.
He said he lost the shipping clerk's position after his boss discovered he was looking for another job. Not that he feels he lost much. He was bringing home $700 a month, which scarcely covered his food, $25 car notes and $245 rent, not including utilities. He thinks he ought to be doing a lot better than that, and can't understand why he isn't.
Well, not entirely, at least. He does know that some prospective employers have lost interest in him because his r,esum,e shows him to be a "job-hopper." The low pay and limited future of the jobs he has had have kept him always looking for something better, he told the Tulsa Daily World. His longest single stint was 10 months as a fabric cutter.
For awhile, he attended Spartan's School of Aeronautics here, but gave it up when the combination of work and school proved too much. He'd still like a good, marketable skill, but he's not quite sure what. His one continuing dream, dating from his Wall Street messenger days, is to be a stockbroker, but he knows he is no closer to that goal than when he was in the medics.
As evidence of his willingness to undertake the effort and sacrifice it takes to make it, he said he once spent 13 of his few precious dollars for a hacker's license and applied for a cab-driving job.
"The guy said, sure. I had to pay gas and 10 cents a mile; $2 to get fingerprinted and then rent a cab for $25 a day. He says this to a man who's looking for a job? He tells me I can earn $45 a day, but he takes $25. I can earn that at minimum wage, and I still got nothing."
And not much to offer, either, except his ambition. This city's business and construction boom, its rapidly growing computer industry and its job-producing wealth mean little to the unskilled.
Thomas is beginning to understand that, and occasionally he'll indicate that he is tailoring his ambitions a bit closer to reality.
"I'll probably be a truck driver, not that there's anything wrong with truck driving," he said at one point. Then he speaks of what he sees as another solution: he thinks maybe he'll get married in a couple of weeks.
"I'm going to help put her through school, and then she's going to help me," he says.