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Oklahoma missing opportunities to give young adult parents and their kids a boost

by | September 25th, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Children and Families, Financial Security | Comments (0)

The first years of adulthood are a crucial time in anyone’s life. Many Oklahomans ages 18 to 24 are taking their first steps toward independence, whether they’re in college or just entering the workforce. These are also key years for brain development and learning critical decision-making skills. When these young people are also new parents of young children, these two most sensitive stages in development coincide. By targeting investment and support to families at this stage of their lives, we have an opportunity to strengthen multiple generations of Oklahomans.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma’s 62,000 young adult parents face hurdles to support their children and fulfill their own potential, according to Opening Doors for Young Parents, the latest KIDS COUNT® policy report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The fifty-state report reveals that, at 18 percent, Oklahoma is well above the national average (10 percent) of residents age 18 to 24 who are also parents. These families have limited access to opportunities to advance their education and find family-sustaining jobs.

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New Census data shows that Oklahoma fell further behind the U.S. on poverty and uninsured rate for second consecutive year

Oklahoma lags behind the nation in our efforts to help families get ahead. New data from the Census Bureau shows that poverty in Oklahoma is still above the national average. In 2017, nearly 1 in 6 Oklahomans (15.8 percent) were living with income below the poverty line ($24,600 for a family of four) before taxes.  And though the percentage of Oklahoma families living in poverty is lower than it was last year (16.3 percent), the distance between Oklahoma’s poverty rate and the national rate has widened.

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Citizen Petition: Oklahoma’s best chance to raise the minimum wage

Deon Osborne is a fall intern with the Oklahoma Policy Institute. He recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media from the University of Oklahoma.

Workers shouldn’t have to struggle to survive on the minimum wage. Since the founding of Oklahoma, our state constitution has allowed for citizens to bring issues to a vote of the people through a signature-gathering process. The success of citizen petitions in recent years suggests that bringing a state minimum wage raise directly to the ballot has a better chance of passing in Oklahoma than through the state Legislature.

The minimum wage was established to give workers fair pay for their labor since 1938.  Yet, the value of the minimum wage hasn’t been able to keep up with the rising cost of living, placing working families in poverty. Today, 28,000 Oklahomans make the federal minimum wage of $15,080 per year or less. This $7.25 per hour minimum wage isn’t enough to live on, even in Oklahoma.  This low wage is especially detrimental to women. Working families are the backbone of our economy.  They shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent.

While Oklahoma lawmakers have not raised the minimum wage — and even passed legislation preventing raises in local minimum wage laws — four other politically conservative states have passed minimum wage hikes through citizen petitions in recent years.  A citizen petition may be low-income workers’ best chance to establish a livable, minimum wage.

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SNAP error rates went up last year, but it wasn’t due to fraud

For many years, anti-hunger advocates have pointed to the low error rates of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as evidence of its efficiency and effectiveness. And that is true – SNAP does have a very low rate of improper payments and it is an effective program that helps millions of American families, including thousands of Oklahomans, put food on the table.

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Denying immigrants access to the safety net would have terrible consequences for us all

Most Americans agree that it’s important to have a social safety net.  Bad luck and hard times can hit any of us, and when that happens there should be something there to keep us from falling into destitution while we work to get back on our feet. That’s what the safety net does – it helps people avoid extreme deprivation and produces long-term benefits, especially for children. But recent moves by the Trump administration could create holes in the safety net, allowing many working families to crash straight through.

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Progress is being made, but there’s still a long way to go in reforming occupational licensing in Oklahoma

by | May 31st, 2018 | Posted in Blog, Financial Security | Comments (3)

We’ve been talking a lot about occupational licensing lately and that’s because it’s a big deal for economic opportunity. Requiring a state license to practice certain occupations began with good intentions –  to protect the public from the harm that can come from someone practicing a profession in an unsafe or incompetent manner.  But today nearly 30 percent of the American workforce needs a license to do their job, and those licenses do not always have a clear connection to public health and safety.  In 21 states, for example, you need a license to be a travel guide.  In Louisiana, you need a license to be a florist

While many occupational licensing requirements have no public safety benefit, the do have clear drawbacks: they restrict entry into many professions by adding expense and imposing restrictions on who can practice the profession.  For too many individuals, onerous requirements push licensed professions out of reach for reasons that have very little (or nothing at all) to do with public health and safety.

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Bill Watch: This year in #okleg

Last week, the Oklahoma legislature adjourned one of the more extraordinary legislative sessions in recent memory – one that followed one special session, ran partially concurrently with another, included nine days of protests at the Capitol, saw the Legislature raise revenues for the first time in nearly 30 years, witnessed a first step in criminal justice reform after years of efforts, and resulted in the largest funding bill in state history (although not if adjusted for inflation). But in all of the confusion and breaking news, it was easy to miss other developments. In the posts below, brief summaries by issue area lay out the major victories and defeats of this spring’s legislative session.

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Why shouldn’t women be allowed to talk about wages with their co-workers? (Guest Post: Liz Waggoner)

Liz Waggoner

Liz Waggoner is the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition, the state’s leading advocacy organization for women and girls.

You might have missed it, but April 10th was Equal Pay Day in the United States.  Equal Pay Day indicates how far into the current year women must work to earn what men made in the previous year; in other words, women must work for 15 and half months to earn what a man earns in 12 months. This day exists because the gender wage gap is still a reality – in Oklahoma, women working full-time, year round earn just 77 percent of what men earn. Though multiple factors contribute to gender pay disparities, one of the reasons women make less than men is wage discrimination – employers paying women less than their male colleagues for the same job. It’s been illegal since 1963, but it can happen easily when wage and pay information is a secret.

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Signs of progress on reducing barriers to work in Oklahoma

Last fall, we told you about the work of the Oklahoma Occupational Licensing Task Force, a group of leaders from the Legislature, state agencies, and private businesses that formed in 2016 to study occupational licensing in the state. The task force’s recommendations are now popping up in legislation this session, and this is very welcome news! These legislative efforts at licensing reform have the potential to help many Oklahoma workers — especially low-income workers — move into professions and occupations that have been off-limits to them due to the cost associated with a license or a criminal history.

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Bill Watch: Next week in #okleg | March 30, 2018

In our weekly Bill Watch post, we discuss what happened and what to look for in the bills we’re following most closely in the Oklahoma Legislature. See our advocacy alerts page for more ways to take action on these issues.

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