Oklahoma boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country
(6.5%), while Florida has one of the highest (10.8%). Unlike the exodus
from Oklahoma that occurred during the Great Depression, the current
strength of the state's economy seems to be drawing immigrant Okies.
The state tax commission does not calculate statistics on the number of
people from out-of-state registering cars or getting licenses in
Oklahoma, but a tag agency representative in Tulsa told me it certainly
seems like there has been an influx in first-time registrars this year.
Relocation felt like a positive step for Kenneth--until he wrecked his
car during the move. Driving in tandem with his younger brother, who
had volunteered to help with the move, Kenneth was trying to keep pace
with the speed demon when he instead ended up in a ditch "maybe
somewhere in Alabama." He was uninjured, but the car was clearly
totaled. Only afterwards did he learn that his father had dropped him
from the family insurance plan. So Kenneth still has a year of payments
to make on a twisted hulk of rusting metal sitting in a junkyard
But Kenneth says he believes "worrying doesn't accomplish anything." So
he tossed everything that wasn't trashed by the wreck into the back of
his brother's truck and the two kept going.
During the drive, Kenneth's brother talked to him about joining the
military. The 21-year-old had enlisted soon after high school and is
now a Riverine in the Navy. He has loved his job manning radios in
small boats patrolling inland waterways in Iraq.
"I'm not a huge supporter of the military," Kenneth admits. "But for
the job security and to get some money for college, right now it sounds
like a good deal."
Kenneth went to visit a military recruitment office within a couple of
days of arriving in Oklahoma. He was ready to sign up and ship out
immediately, until he realized that wasn't possible. The recession has
ballooned the ranks of new enlistees so much, the recruiter told him
that he probably wouldn't get into boot camp for at least seven or
eight months. Unsure what other opportunities might arise in the near
future, Kenneth decided to wait before officially committing himself to
Focusing instead on the conventional job hunt, within two weeks Kenneth
had landed a position working the desk at a La Quinta in Muskogee. It
may not be his dream job, but he enjoys it well enough. He could be
doing much worse for a steady paycheck.
Kenneth still has plans to join the Navy--maybe in a year when the wait
list for boot camp isn't so long, and the chances he could be deployed
to Iraq have diminished. "I don't believe it's our responsibility to
fix the world," he admits, but the job security and college money are
too enticing to ignore.
So he has been working out to get in better physical shape for recruit
training, letting his hair grow long before he has to shave it down to
military standards, and studying to prepare for the Armed Services
Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). "I want to get a high score so I
can get a land-based job in technology," he says.
Kenneth thinks a specialized expertise would help keep him away from
any war zone, so I have ask what he would do if the military deployed
him to Iraq. "It would probably put my beliefs to the test," he says.
"But that's where I'm at right now."