We should expand America’s most successful anti-poverty program

by | April 10th, 2014 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity, Taxes | Comments (0)
Photo credit: www.lendingmemo.com

Photo credit: www.lendingmemo.com

This post is by OK Policy intern Haley Stritzel. Haley is a University of Tulsa student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies.

In his budget plan for next year, President Obama has proposed expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Legislation has also been introduced in Congress to improve and strengthen the tax credit. Adopting these proposals would be a sensible move to reduce poverty while bolstering the economy.

The EITC benefits low and moderate-income families by offsetting federal payroll and income taxes. This tax credit is refundable, meaning that if the credit exceeds how much a worker owes, the worker will receive the leftover credit as a tax refund. The size of the tax credit depends on marital status, number of dependent children, and annual income. It increases with annual income up to a maximum level, about $37,900 to $51,600 for families with children, and then phases out at higher income levels. The average EITC benefit for families with children was $2,905 in 2011.

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MyRA: New options for working Oklahomans

by | April 2nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

retirement-fund-copyDuring the 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama announced a new savings initiative, appropriately titled ‘MyRA’.  Created by executive order, the MyRA is a simple retirement savings account that will be available (after an initial pilot period) to many workers through their employers.  This post explains the rationale behind the new initiative, how MyRA accounts work, and how they could help move thousands of working Oklahomans toward a more secure retirement.

We know that not enough Oklahoma workers are saving for retirement.  More than a quarter of the state’s workers (and more than half of part-time hourly employees) don’t have access to a retirement plan through their employer, as shown in the chart below:

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Rip-off U (Guest Post: Camille Landry)

camille_landryCamille Landry is a writer, activist, and social justice advocate who lives in Oklahoma City.  This post is part of our “Neglected Oklahoma” series, which tells the stories of Oklahomans in situations where the basic necessities of life are hard to come by.  These are real people and their stories are true (names have been changed to protect privacy).

“I’m mad. Really mad. I’m stuck with thousands of dollars in debt for training that I didn’t get. The State of Oklahoma pushed me into a training program that was worthless and expensive. I spent 10 months and $15,900 on a stinking pile of nothing. They ripped me off.”

Marsha Bradley’s life started to unravel in 2007. “My mom’s breast cancer returned. She didn’t make it. My brother and sister were still in high school so I moved them in with me. I couldn’t keep all those balls in the air. I lost my job.”

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Bowled Over: BCS schools failing their Black male athletes (Damario Solomon-Simmons)

BCS FootballDamario Solomon-Simmons, Esq., M.Ed., is a former University of Oklahoma football player, athletic department employee, and full-time Lecturer.  Currently he is the managing partner of SolomonSimmonSharrock law firm and Legislative Liaison for Oklahoma Policy Institute.

The explosive growth of Black athletes participating in “Big-Time” college football will be on full display during the upcoming Bowl Championship Series (BCS).  Today, almost 60 percent of all college football players are Black, and it would be hard to find any top team where Black players make up less than 80 percent of their starters.  

Unfortunately, for too many of these Black male athletes, athletic progress has not translated into academic success.  This sad scenario is the subject of a new report titled “Black Male Student-Athletes and the 2014 Bowl Championship Series” from the University of Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Race & Equality. The report, published the under the visionary leadership of Dr. Shaun Harper, found startling and significant graduation rate disparities between Black male athletes and the members of other student groups at the top 25 BCS schools.  For example:

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[Read This] Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much

by | December 19th, 2013 | Posted in Blog, Poverty, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

CROP-colorbook1110I had the opportunity recently to hear Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir talk about the research and principles behind his new book (co-written with Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan), “Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much.”  The premise of the book is simple and manages to elegantly explain volumes of research on poverty through one compelling idea:  scarcity.

When a person lacks something they need, the effect of such scarcity changes their thinking and behavior in consistent and predictable ways.  In the case of poverty, we’re talking about people who lack sufficient financial resources.  But the scarcity effect outlined in this book holds true for people who lack other things they need – like time or calories.

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Reducing Economic Inequality: It’s about wealth, not jobs (Guest Post: Mark Funkhouser)

by | December 3rd, 2013 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Mark Funkhouser, a former Kansas City mayor and auditor, is the director of the Governing Institute, where GOV_Funkhouser-thumbthis post originally appeared.  It is reposted with permission.

Inequality of wealth and income in the United States is as high as it has ever been. Family net worth is at a 43-year low. Nearly one out of six Americans relies on food stamps, a program which at the moment is threatened with extinction. In New York City, about 50,000 people, of whom 21,600 are children, are in homeless shelters.

These are troubling facts, and not just at a moral dimension but in terms of the threat they pose to social cohesion and stability. These economic conditions are not the inevitable result of technological change, globalization or some other inexorable force. They are human artifacts, not unlike climate change, and as with climate change they can be altered by intelligent, creative people pursuing long-term public-policy solutions.

A critical first step in developing these policies is to adopt the right goals and metrics. At a recent Governing event on workforce and economic development, Deirdre Myers, deputy director of Oklahoma’s Office of Economic and Workforce Policy, said that the goal of her state’s economic-development strategy is “increasing the wealth of Oklahoma families.” She’s right on target. Measuring and working to increase family wealth produces a much different and a much better frame for policy-making than the standard mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

In fact, a strategy of trying to attract more low-wage jobs is worthless. Holding a low-paying, dead-end job may even have a negative long-term impact on family wealth by sucking up time and energy that could be put to more productive use.

While two out of every five Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck, families that have accumulated some sort of wealth surplus can better withstand the setbacks that inevitably occur: A car or a major appliance breaks down. A family member loses a job or is laid off for a while. Someone suffers an illness that involves extra expense or time lost from work.

There are lots of ways — ways that flow directly from public policy — that families might increase their wealth. Being required to pay less for housing or transportation, for example, can help them accumulate savings that might be invested in the kinds of education or skill development that can lead to better-paying jobs. So policies and initiatives aimed at improving such basic services as transit, schools and public safety can be viewed as effective economic-development strategies.

Those who want to reverse economic inequality should support strategies like those because they have a disproportionately greater positive impact on families at the lower end of the income scale. The well-off can afford to drive reliable cars, send their kids to private schools and live in safer neighborhoods surrounded by private security.

Finally, the place to focus on to implement strategies aimed at reducing inequality should be cities. For too long our politics has been too focused on Washington, but the federal government is just too cumbersome and too captured by big money to make real changes in areas like these soon. A localized strategy can work because, while money is still hugely influential, in a smaller arena that can be overcome.

And as many others have noted, cities are where exciting innovation and experimentation are happening these day. For example, in Richmond, Va., the capital of the Confederacy, an African-American mayor in his second term has gone all-in on a bold anti-poverty plan. While immigration reform has been stuck in Washington for years, Dayton, Ohio, is welcoming immigrants as a means of boosting its economy. And in Seattle, both candidates in the city’s race for mayor have endorsed fast-food workers’ union-backed demands for a $15 minimum hourly wage.

Experimentation city by city, cross pollination through social media and adaptation, refinement of policies and political strategies — those are the ways to deal with rising inequality. Think globally and act locally. Start with the mayors. That has worked for climate-change activists, and it can work in this situation as well.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

NOTE: The documentary Inequality for All will be screening December 4th – 8th at the Oklahoma City Museum for Art. Click here for showtime information and to order tickets.

Policy Basics: Oklahoma’s Food Security Safety Net

food-insecurityThis year brought impressive economic growth for many Oklahomans. The state unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation, and our economy is recovering rapidly from the Great Recession. Despite these encouraging indicators, Oklahomans also face serious challenges: rising food costs, a widening income gap, low health rankings, and years of rising poverty and food insecurity.

Several programs operated by the state and federal government in Oklahoma are helping to address these problems. For each of these programs, a new OK Policy issue brief examines who is eligible and how many participate in Oklahoma, how they are funded and administered, what is their economic impact within the state, and what successes or failures they have shown in fulfilling their mission to reduce food insecurity.

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The State of Oklahoma Women (Part Two): Healthy women, healthy families

by | November 14th, 2013 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

woman in painThis post is the second of a two-part series on the state of women in Oklahoma based on the Center for American Progress’s report “The State of Women in America: A 50-State Analysis of How Women are Faring Across the Nation. (Click here for Part 1). Oklahoma ranked 48th out of 50 overall based on three categories: economic security, leadership, and the health of women and families. The state’s scores for women’s economic security and leadership weren’t terrible, but Oklahoma’s ranking for health of women and families – 50th out of 50 – pushed the state’s overall ranking downward. This post discusses the health of women and families and posits options going forward.

It’s not that Oklahoma was the absolute worst by all of the health indicators – it typically wasn’t – but that no other state consistently did as badly as Oklahoma. While eight other states reported higher infant mortality statistics than Oklahoma (Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Ohio, Delaware, Indiana, and Louisiana), none of those same states were the two who outranked Oklahoma for maternal mortality (Michigan and Georgia). And none of those ten states were the single state that had more women per OB-GYN (Pennsylvania).

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The State of Oklahoma Women (Part One): Economic security and leadership

by | November 7th, 2013 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

StateOfWomen-COVERThis is the first of a two-part series examining the state of women in Oklahoma based on three indicators: economic security, leadership and health of women and families. The first post focuses on economic security and leadership; the second post will examine the health of women and families.

In September, the Center for American Progress released a report titled, “The State of Women in America: A 50-State Analysis of How Women are Faring Across the Nation.” The report uses a total of fourteen indicators in three categories – economic security, the leadership gap, and women’s health and healthy families – to produce a nationwide ranking.

Oklahoma came in at 48th out of 50. And while it isn’t unusual for Oklahoma to wind up at the narrow ends of the bell curve for any nationwide ranking (incarceration, meth labs, murders of women by men), Oklahoma actually rated relatively well in two of the three categories: economic security and leadership.

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[Closing The Gap, Part 5] Past is future: Intergenerational wealth

by | August 28th, 2013 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

This is the fifth post in a running series based on our recent report, Closing the Opportunity Gap: Building Equity in Oklahoma, which assesses the racial wealth gap and proposes solutions for closing that gap through asset-building. Previous posts detailed disparities in foundational assets (health, education, transportation) generative assets (employment and income) and regenerative assets (savings and homeownership).

The opportunity gap has remarkable staying power.  From generation to generation, wealth disparities by race are persistent.  This post explores the intergenerational forces underlying this inertia and the role of past events in determining future outcomes.

We know that infants born into families that can’t meet their basic needs are more likely to end up on a lower rung of the economic ladder than infants born into families with the means to satisfy their every need.  That’s because our ability to build and accumulate wealth contracts or expands in proportion to our opportunities.  

This does not deny anyone’s capacity to work their way up (or down) the economic ladder regardless of their original circumstances.  Many people do.  But it’s similarly illogical to assume that anyone who is asset-rich must have worked harder and made better choices than anyone who is asset-poor (precisely the conclusion of a recent Oklahoman Editorial).

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