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Oklahoma student leaders propose a realistic minimum wage (Guest Post: Andrew T. Hocutt)

by | February 2nd, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Financial Security, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Andrew T. Hocutt is a junior at Rogers State University studying Political Science and Public Administration. He was a 2015 participant in OK Policy’s Summer Policy Institute, and he serves as Chairman for the Rogers State University delegation of the Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature.

Poor wages in terms of peanuts.

Poor wages in terms of peanuts.

Since 2013, substantive reforms to several state and local minimum wage systems have been implemented across the United States. Advocacy groups such as Fast Food Forward  and Fight for $15  have steadily been gaining popular support and successfully driving the movement to raise the minimum wage into the political forefront. While the movement has seen notable success in U.S. cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City, other cities and rural areas are having difficulty garnering support behind the idea of the $15 livable wage.

In Oklahoma it has proven especially difficult to achieve a higher minimum wage. In 2014,  Oklahoma legislators  approved SB 1023, immediately and indefinitely ending local-control of minimum wage policies for every city and town in the state. The pretense for this policy was the fear that allowing municipalities to increase the local minimum wage would drive businesses out of communities and possibly even the state.

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The program known as ‘welfare’ barely exists in Oklahoma

by | January 28th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

worried mother and baby

From its creation in 1934 to the mid-1990s, the Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program was a major component of America’s safety net, providing cash assistance to low-income families with children. In 1996, President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress approved reforms to “end welfare as we know it.” AFDC became Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), with much stricter limits on who can receive aid and for how long and much greater leeway for state officials to use federal funds for welfare as they see fit.

Prior to the 1996 welfare reforms, AFDC was an entitlement like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. That means any qualifying family who applied could receive benefits, and spending on the program went up and down based on need. Under the new TANF rules, recipients must satisfy a work or training requirement, and they can lose benefits for not meeting these requirements. TANF benefits to families also have a strict time limit — recipients may receive benefits for a maximum of five years over their lifetime, unless they meet limited criteria for a hardship extension.

Another major change with welfare reform is that TANF funds are now provided as block grants to states. Instead of going up and down based on need, the total amount of the basic TANF block grant has remained at $16.5 billion per year since 1996. Due to inflation, its real value has fallen by one-third since that year.

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To improve Oklahoma’s health, we must reduce inequality (Guest Post: Candace Smith)

by | January 20th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Candace Smith

Candace Smith

Candace Smith is an OK Policy Research Fellow and a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma’s (OU) Norman Campus. She is also a research assistant at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Planning, Research and Statistics.

Chronic diseases create significant quality of life challenges to patients and families, are expensive to treat, and occur with uncomfortable frequency in Oklahoma. Given our state’s poor overall health rankings, it comes as no surprise that we have some of the highest occurrences of chronic disease in the nation. Evidence shows that social inequalities drive these troubling diseases. It is abundantly clear that improving Oklahoman’s health requires reducing inequality.

A chronic disease is a health condition that lasts at least twelve months, requires ongoing medical attention, and/or limits an individual’s daily activities. They may be brought on or worsened by certain activities or behaviors: for instance, smoking commonly triggers emphysema, and unhealthy eating can cause diabetes. Although the prevalence of chronic disease is increasing around the country, the situation is especially bad in Oklahoma. Compared to both the nation and to nearby states like Arkansas, Texas, and Kansas, Oklahoma performs poorly on most chronic disease indicators.

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Child care is getting less accessible for Oklahoma’s working parents

For many working Oklahoma families, child care is both an absolute requirement and a significant expense. The cost of child care can easily match or even surpass that of college tuition. Low-income families can catch a break through child care subsidies, which pay part or all of a child’s care expenses while parents are at work, at school, or receiving training. However, participation in the subsidy program has dropped off by more than 30 percent in the last 13 years, from nearly 49,000 children in 2004 to just 31,525 in 2015.

The need for child care certainly hasn’t decreased, so what’s driving the change? The answer seems to boil down to a range of contributing factors, including cost to families, the changing nature of work, provider participation, and demographic shifts. But one thing that probably isn’t a factor is more children enrolling in preschool instead of child care. Here’s what we found:

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What a difference a mile makes (Neglected Oklahoma)

Camille 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).

man-person-school-headWilliam is a 7th grader who attends a suburban middle school. His school has well-equipped classrooms staffed by certified teachers. Every child has the appropriate textbooks and school supplies. The majority of the children at this school work at or above grade level; they scored well above the state average on standardized tests. Plenty of extra help is available for those who need it. The school received an 8/10 rating on the site and a B on the OK state school report card. William is hoping for a basketball scholarship to OU or maybe an out of state college. It’s likely that William will graduate high school, like 95 percent of the students who attend his school (10 percent higher than the state’s average).

“Sure I’m going to college. Almost everybody here is planning to go to college,” William reports.

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Upcoming Event: ‘Dream On’ Film Screening

OK Policy and the OSU Forum of Geography Graduate Students will host a screening of the new documentary Dream On at OSU-Stillwater on Tuesday, January 19th at 6:30pm. In an epic road trip, political comedian John Fugelsang retraces the journey of Alexis de Tocqueville to investigate the perilous state of the American Dream after decades of rising income inequality and declining economic mobility.

The screening will be in Room 108 of the Noble Research Center.  A panel discussion featuring Mana Tahaie (Director of Mission Impact, YWCA Tulsa) and Lawrence Ware (Lecturer and Diversity Coordinator, OSU) will follow.

The event is free and open to the public. You can RSVP on Facebook here and download a flyer for the event here. See a trailer for the film below:

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Is this the blueprint for ending poverty? (OK PolicyCast)

by | December 7th, 2015 | Posted in Education, Podcast, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Dr. David Grusky

Dr. David Grusky

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesStitcher, or RSS. The podcast theme music is by Zébre.

This October, Stanford University’s Dr. David Grusky visited Oklahoma for a talk at the University of Tulsa. Dr. Grusky’s books include Social Stratification, Occupy the Future, The New Gilded Age, The Great Recession, The Inequality Reader, and The Inequality Puzzle. His presentation at TU was titled, “A Blueprint for Ending Poverty… Permanently.” Dr. Grusky also spent some time with OK Policy’s staff discussing how the research on poverty and inequality is inspiring an ambitious new effort to end poverty in California.

You can download the podcast here, play it in your browser, or read a lightly edited transcript below:

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Fact sheet: Hunger in Oklahoma

The holiday season is a time when many of use will share feasts with our loved ones. Yet hundreds of thousands of Oklahoma still don’t always know where their next meal will come from. Not having enough to eat impacts Oklahomans of all ages, but it especially affects children. In addition, thousands of Oklahomans rely on the food security safety net, including SNAP, WIC, school meals, and other programs. 

About 654,640 Oklahomans are food-insecure.

This 2013 statistic means that a large number of Oklahomans don’t have consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle. Oklahomans are more likely to be food-insecure than most Americans. Our state outpaces the national average for both low food security and very low food security.

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Song for my father (Neglected Oklahoma)

Camille 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).

Head east on I-40. Go past Midwest City and Tinker, out to where the hills roll down to creeks lined with trees and the land is green. Get off at the Prague exit and follow the signs to Boley. Stop by the Dairy Queen. Five miles out of town, turn right down a long gravel road and park near the barn. Give your dad a hug and unload the groceries you brought.

Your dad smiles. You’ve been his lifeline for years now. Social Security barely covers utilities, medicine and doctor visits. Your dad made a good living as an auto mechanic but he has no pension and his savings are about gone, eaten up by your mom’s medical  expenses before she passed. SNAP benefits help but the end of the month, when food stamps are gone, is always lean.

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We’re asking the wrong question (Guest post: Abby J. Leibman)

by | November 16th, 2015 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

bread lineAbby J. Leibman is President and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a national nonprofit organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the United States and Israel. MAZON helps to fund OK Policy’s policy work around hunger and food security. This article was previously published at

Most of our response to hunger in America is wrong. The programs and policies we employ are, by and large, misdirected, misguided and missing the mark entirely. That shameful fact is the result of one simple problem: When we ask the wrong question, the answer is inevitably wrong, too.

The question we ask routinely is “How do we manage hunger in America?”

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