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Occupational licensing is a growing barrier to Oklahomans who seek a decent job

by | October 9th, 2017 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

Let’s say you want to change careers. Or maybe you’re a recent graduate thinking about what you’d like to do as you enter the workforce. Like an increasing number of American workers, you might find that stiff requirements to get an occupational license stand in the way.

In theory, occupational license requirements come from a desire to protect the public from harm by someone practicing a profession in an incompetent or unsafe manner. Often, that makes sense.  Doctors must have a license to practice medicine, for example.  To get that license they must prove that they have the necessary education — because if they don’t, patients could be seriously harmed.

However, an increasing number of professions now require a license to practice somewhere in America, and not all of this growth is born of strong public health and safety concerns. In 1950, just 5 percent of the American workforce needed a license to do their job – now it’s nearly 30 percent. In Louisiana, for example, you need a license to be a florist. In 21 states, you’ll need a license to be a travel guide.

The growth in occupational licensing is a concern for many individuals and groups on both sides of the partisan aisle. Free market and libertarian groups like the Institute for Justice and Americans for Prosperity, centrist think tanks like the Brookings Institute, and former president Barack Obama have all advocated for reforms in occupational licensing.

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New Census data shows Oklahoma fell further behind the U.S. on poverty and uninsured rate in 2016

by | September 14th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

New Census data shows the percentage of families living in poverty in Oklahoma increased in 2016, even as the national poverty rate declined to its lowest point since 2008. In 2016, almost one out of six Oklahomans (16.3 percent) were making less than the poverty line ($24,230 a year for a family of four) before taxes. About 9,500 more Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty line in 2016 than in 2015.

Oklahoma’s poverty rate increased even as the poverty rate for the United States as a whole fell to 14.0 percent. These national improvements widened the gap between Oklahoma and the U.S. as a whole. Oklahoma’s poverty rate in 2016 was 9th highest out of all 50 states.

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In dispute between Republican leaders over DHS funding, here are the facts

by | July 19th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (10)

Rep. Leslie Osborn and House Speaker Charles McCall

It’s been an eventful week for the Oklahoma Legislature, especially considering they are not even in session. The week began with House Speaker Charles McCall and Majority Leader Mike Sanders blasting the Oklahoma Department of Human Services for making cuts to services for seniors, foster families, and in-home support for people with developmental disabilities. Three days later, three Republican legislators, including House Appropriations and Budget Chair Leslie Osborn, spoke out in defense of the agency, laying out why the cuts could not have been avoided given insufficient funding to cope with rising needs. The next day, Speaker McCall removed Osborn from her position as Appropriations and Budget committee chair.

Although the Speaker’s office said Rep. Osborn’s public disagreement was “absolutely not” the reason for her ouster, they gave no other reason for the decision, and the timing makes it hard to believe it was unrelated. While we don’t know what internal politics of the House Republican caucus may have contributed to these events, we can look at the facts of the dispute over the DHS cuts.

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Minimum wage isn’t what it used to be – it’s worse

by | July 13th, 2017 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

The federal minimum wage was established in 1938 at 25¢ an hour (about $4.26 in today’s dollars). Since then it’s been adjusted 29 times to keep up with inflation and rising living standards. The most recent change was in 2009, when the minimum wage increased to $7.25 an hour — but that hasn’t been enough to maintain the value of the wage.

Adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage is worth about 33 percent less than it was in 1968 (the year of its peak adjusted value). Simply put, the minimum wage has not kept pace with the cost of living in America or what our society views as the basic income that a job should provide.

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Care for seniors, people with disabilities at risk as DHS grapples with budget shortfall

by | June 20th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Most Americans (nearly 90 percent of people over at 65) want to stay in their homes as long as possible as they get older. For people with disabilities, staying in one’s home represents decades of hard-fought court battles against forced institutionalization. For both seniors and people with disabilities, in-home care is vastly less expensive than a residential nursing facility, and in-home care usually means better health outcomes. In-home care is a win for all, from individuals needing the care to their families, friends, and communities.

Still, many people cannot afford to be cared for inside their homes without help from public services. For Oklahoma’s low-income seniors and people with disabilities, access to those in-home supports may be financed by Medicaid through the state’s Department of Human Services. But with the state now facing another year of flat budgets amid rising costs, those services are at risk. Despite warnings from DHS director Ed Lake that DHS needed $733 million to maintain services, and that their budget cut scenarios range “from the terrible to the unthinkable,” the Legislature gave DHS just shy of $700 million for SFY 2018. This appropriation of about 5 percent less than the agency needs to stay whole is going to mean more cuts — and in-home care services appear to be on the chopping block.

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Congress is trying to strip away Americans’ protections from predatory lending

Last month, Governor Fallin made the right choice when she vetoed HB 1913 – a bill that would have expanded predatory lending in Oklahoma. In her veto message, Fallin pointed out that Oklahomans frequently take out high-interest loans at a high cost to them and their families. Gov. Fallin wisely chose not to add another predatory product to the market that could trap Oklahoma families in even more debt.

Predatory lending is not just an Oklahoma problem. Only 15 states and the District of Columbia prohibit payday lending with interest rate caps.  Interest rates in the remaining states range from an average of 154 percent in Oregon to an astronomical 677 percent in Ohio. The average rate in Oklahoma on a payday loan is nearly 400 percent. Payday borrowers often end up paying more in interest than what they get through the loan, and repeat borrowing is common.  Payday loans, auto title loans, and small installment loans are a debt trap for working families in America, and most states have not taken action to protect them.

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Schools use food trucks to fight food insecurity during summer months

Maggie Den Harder is an intern with Oklahoma Policy Institute and a Masters of Public Administration student at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.

For Oklahoma families who are food-insecure, school meals can be a lifeline. Six in ten students qualify for free or reduced-cost meals at school. These meals offer solid nutrition while alleviating tight household budgets. But hunger doesn’t take a vacation during summer break, and although federal summer meal programs are available, participation in Oklahoma lags badly. However, some Oklahoma school districts have found success by building on a new distribution model: food trucks.

Mobile summer meal delivery isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that’s growing. In Alabama, Mobile County Schools has converted four buses to food trucks with an eat-in area so students can eat in air conditioning. In San Marcos, Texas, the district converted a bus that delivers lunch food to high-need areas. School districts in Delaware, Florida, and Connecticut successfully used food trucks to distribute food to students over the summer, too. With the help of local community partners like food banks and libraries, more students across the nation are gaining access to schools meals during the summer months.

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Bill to expand eligibility for Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships would be a win for all Oklahomans

The Oklahoma Legislature is close to passing a bill (SB 529) to make Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships available to more students. Available since 1996, these scholarships cover the cost of tuition for in-state students at an Oklahoma public college or university if students complete a series of college-readiness requirements before high school graduation and maintain a passing GPA once in college.

Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships have become a critical part of college planning for low and moderate income Oklahoma families as they are guaranteed to students who meet the income guidelines and complete the requirements.  Expanding access to the program is necessary if Oklahoma wants to compete in the new economy where most high-paying jobs require advanced education.

Currently, students are eligible for the scholarship if their family’s income is below $50,000 at the time they apply.  SB 529 would raise the income limit to $55,000 in 2017-2018 and then to $60,000 in 2021-2022.  SB 529 has passed both the House and Senate, but the Senate still needs to approve House amendments or work out the language in conference committee. The bill is close to the finish line, which is good news for college-bound students and for the whole state.

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HB 1270 adds bureaucratic hurdles for Oklahoma families and won’t generate promised savings

Earlier this spring, we warned that HB 1270 would grow administrative waste and punish poor families by requiring substantially more rigorous and more frequent verification procedures for families applying for SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid (SoonerCare). Following public outcry, HB 1270 has been pared back to only apply to SoonerCare, with a provision excepting some individuals with significant disabilities. However, HB 1270 is still an expensive, unnecessary bill that would put access to basic health care for Oklahoma families at risk. Here’s how.

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What happened to my refund?

It’s tax time again, and if you are one of the more than 300,000 Oklahoma households that claim the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) you may have noticed that your tax refund is lower than it was last year, even if there was no change in your income. That’s because the Oklahoma Legislature slashed the state EITC to help close last year’s budget hole. The state EITC is no longer refundable in Oklahoma, so most people who qualify for the credit will no longer get the full benefit.

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