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Celebrating big progress toward hunger-free schools

Late this summer, just as parents started to wonder precisely where they’d put that school supplies list, Tulsa Public Schools announced that all elementary schools in the district would serve free breakfast and lunch to all students in the coming school year. Tulsa is able to provide these meals using federal funding through the Community Eligibility Provision, or CEP

This is great news for Tulsa Public Schools and kids. Community Eligibility Provision drives down administrative burdens, better equips kids to learn, and ends the stigma sometimes attached to free school meals. Participation has so far been very low in Oklahoma, but bringing in TPS’s 24,000 elementary students will increase the number of students participating in Oklahoma in the 2016-2017 school year by more than one-third, from 66,000 to 90,000.

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Why is Oklahoma worst in the nation for feeding hungry kids in summer?

Tara Grigson is an OK Policy intern. She is a psychology and Spanish major at the University of Tulsa and previously worked as a Mission Impact Intern at YWCA Tulsa.

school lunchOklahoma is nearly the worst in the nation for food insecurity: approximately 1 in 4 Oklahoma children do not have consistent access to nutritious food in their homes for any number or combination of reasons, from low family incomes to living in food deserts with inadequate transportation. During the school year, the USDA’s school meals program help make sure these kids have access to affordable, nutritious food. In the 2014-2015 school year, nearly 300,000 Oklahoma children enrolled in public schools relied on school-provided lunches during the school year. However, when school lets out for summer, family paychecks don’t expand to accommodate up to 10 meals per child per week, leaving too many children hungry.

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Confront the ‘parasite economy’ by raising the minimum wage

by | July 21st, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Every three months, the ADP Research Institute releases its Workforce Vitality Index, a measure of private sector job and wage growth.  For the past two quarters, Washington state has led the nation in growing jobs and boosting wages, far outpacing the national average and such states as Texas, Florida, and California.

Why does this matter?   Because Washington state has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation at $9.47 an hour. And since April 2015, the city of Seattle has been moving towards a $15 minimum wage, with the current minimum ranging from $10.50 to $13 depending on employer size.  As the Workforce Vitality Index shows, businesses in Seattle and Washington state are thriving and generating more employment. Seattle’s restaurant industry — which fought the wage laws fiercely — is continuing to add jobs.

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Income inequality in Oklahoma has declined but there’s more work to be done

by | July 20th, 2016 | Posted in Economy, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Income inequality between people conceptKylie Thomas is an OK Policy intern and a Master’s student in economics at American University. She previously earned her Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Tulsa.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) recently released an updated report on income inequality in the U.S. by state, and the data shows improvements in Oklahoma. In 2012, income inequality in Oklahoma reached a historic high. The bottom 99 percent of Oklahomans were earning an average income of $41,995, while the top 1 percent were earning $1,105,521, which was 26 times greater. Overall, in 2012, Oklahoma ranked 12th highest in the nation for income inequality.  

However, Oklahoma’s income inequality gap narrowed in 2013 (the year of most recent data). To be considered part of the top 1 percent in 2013 in Oklahoma, an individual needed to make an income of at least $324,935. The average income of the bottom 99 percent rose nearly $3,000 to $44,849 and fell for the top 1 percent to $903,201, which is still 20.7 times greater than the bottom 99 percent. That’s a little more equal than overall in the U.S., where the average income of the top 1 percent was 25.3 times greater than the bottom 99 percent. Consequently, Oklahoma’s national rank improved from 12th to 15th most unequal.

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Frozen child care subsidy thaws, but remains on thin ice

by | July 11th, 2016 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

girl in skates sit on ice rink after fallIn welcome news for working families, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS) announced at the end of June that it would lift the freeze on child care subsidy enrollment by August 1. In any given month, more than 30,000 Oklahoma kids get child care through the subsidy program; it’s a crucial support for these children and working parents. It’s good that the freeze has been thawed – but that a freeze was necessary highlights how Oklahoma’s revenue gaps directly harm working families.

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Why poverty in Oklahoma is being compared to a Third World nation

by | July 5th, 2016 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (37)

homeless mother with her daughterEach year, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof holds a Win-A-Trip contest for college students to accompany him on a reporting trip to the developing world. Most years, his trip explores  global poverty in far-flung places like Congo or Myanmar. This year, he decided to add a stop in Tulsa to see the impact of the nation’s 20-year experiment with revamping welfare.

His disheartening findings were featured in a recent Sunday’s New York Times column. “The embarrassing truth,” he writes, “is that welfare reform has resulted in a layer of destitution that echoes poverty in countries like Bangladesh.”

In 1996, President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress approved legislation to “end welfare as we know it.” Under the replacement Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, it became harder for single parents to qualify for cash support. Recipients were subject to work requirements, harsh penalties for non-compliance, and strict time limits for receiving assistance.

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Oklahoma’s teen birth rate is near the highest in the country. We can do better.

Tara Grigson is an OK Policy intern. She is a psychology and Spanish major at the University of Tulsa and previously worked as a Mission Impact Intern at YWCA Tulsa.

Oklahoma ranks 2nd among all U.S. states for the highest teen birth rate. In 2014, Oklahoma’s teen birth rate was 38.5 per 1,000 teenage women, more than 1.5 times the national average of 24.2 per 1,000 teenage women. That works out to 4,802 teen births in Oklahoma in 2014.

While the largest number of teen births were to non-Hispanic white Oklahomans, the birth rate was highest for non-Hispanic black teenagers (46.9 per 1,000) and Hispanic teenagers (58 per 1,000). Oklahoma’s Hispanic teen birth rate is the highest in the country for that ethnic group (out of 49 states reporting).

Between 2011 and 2014, the United States saw a 23 percent drop in the overall teen birth rate, and Oklahoma’s rate dropped too. However, our 19 percent decline meant we fell further behind the national trend.

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A perfect storm (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).

“My life sucks.” She says it in such a matter-of-fact way you might think she’s talking about breaking a nail, but Tanya Cochran really means it. A perfect storm of homophobia, poverty, substance abuse, a failing mental health system, a deeply flawed child protective services system and the privatization of public services placed Tanya directly into the path of poverty, with no way out.

The problems started when Tanya was 15 and landed in foster care due to her mother’s drug use. Tanya was placed in the Cleveland County children’s shelter, then moved to a foster home three months later.

“The shelter was pretty awful and I figured a real home would be better.” But it quickly became clear that there would be problems. “I told the social worker I’m a lesbian and I guess she told the foster lady.” LGBT youth are overrepresented in foster care and in juvenile detention, but the foster mother was not okay with it. She left notes with prayers and Bible verses where Tanya could see them, talked about sinfulness, and pressured Tanya to go to church. One day Tanya came home from school and found her case worker waiting to take her away. She moved to a group home, where two older girls immediately started bullying her. Tanya told a staff member and she was moved to a different bedroom, but the threats and slurs continued.

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Food deserts are a big reason behind Oklahomans’ poor health

by | June 13th, 2016 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Ethan Rex was an OK Policy spring intern. He is a sociology senior at the University of Tulsa and a research assistant with Women in Recovery, an alternative to incarceration for eligible women convicted of non-violent, drug-related offenses.

Earlier this year, Walmart announced the nationwide closure of 154 stores, causing concerns over how people will have access to groceries. Of the 154 nationwide closures, 6 stores have shut down in Oklahoma. In two cities where closures occurred, Luther and Okemah, residents now face the reality of living in a food desert.

These recent shutdowns echo a similar closure of a Walmart store in Tulsa in April 2015, which created a food desert spanning most of north Tulsa. The shutdown of that Walmart sparked local discussion about food security for low income residents. Food deserts have serious health and economic implications, and it is important to understand the problems caused by food deserts in order to form effective policy to combat them.

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New housing study highlights major needs in Oklahoma

by | June 9th, 2016 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Affordable housing is more than just shelter. To the extent that housing is affordable, it determines if people have money left over at the end of the month to provide for food, utilities, and other needs. It determines if your children can grow up in a safe neighborhood. Rising housing costs can mean instability if you have to move. It determines if you live in a safe home with running water and secure shelter in a storm.

Even though Oklahoma is considered an affordable place to live, housing costs are still unaffordable for many lower wage earners. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a family supported by one full-time worker would need to be making $14.33 per hour to afford a two bedroom apartment. Yet the median wage is well below that for tens of thousands of workers in Oklahoma.

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