Oklahoma's unemployment climbed to 6.5 percent last month, the highest rate in 15 years, according to preliminary data released by the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

The commission reported Friday that the state's unemployment rate inched up from 6.4 percent in June.

Despite the climb, Oklahoma's rate still was tied with Iowa and Wyoming for the fifth lowest in the nation. The only states with lower July rates were North Dakota at 4.2 percent, Nebraska and South Dakota at 4.9 percent, and Utah at 6 percent.

July's seasonally adjusted rate is the highest for Oklahoma since March 1992, when it hit 6.7 percent, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Compared with July 2008, Oklahoma's seasonally adjusted rate grew by 2.6 percentage points, the commission reported.

Although seasonally adjusted nonfarm employment grew by 6,400 jobs last month, the state has lost 33,700 jobs since July last year.

Statewide, the leisure and hospitality sector lost 1,000 jobs in July, the largest monthly drop. But several sectors posted job growth, including 3,200 jobs in professional and business services, 1,500 in local government and 1,000 in mining and logging, the commission reported.

New jobs in mining and logging, which includes the oil industry, is a good sign that activity there is on the rise, especially after close to 6,000 job losses since July 2008, Oklahoma Bankers Association economist Keith Hazelton said.

"I'm pleased with the estimated growth, and this perhaps is a reflection of improving crude oil prices prompting an increase in energy activity," he said, adding a decline in natural gas prices means jobs likely were lost there. But crude oil prices rebounding from January lows could spur new development and exploration, and new jobs.

"And as these tend to be better paying jobs, the benefits flow in every direction, from retail to tax receipts," he said.

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