[Closing The Gap, Part 2] Foundations of the wealth gap

Some core assets are best described as foundational:  health, education, and transportation are critical to our ability to achieve and maintain financial security throughout our lifetime.  Health, education, and transportation position us to obtain employment, generate enough income to make ends meet, and save for emergencies or long-term goals.  This post is the second 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.  Our first post focused on historical roots of the wealth gap in Oklahoma.  Now we’ll consider wealth and assets in terms of their earliest and most foundational effect on Oklahomans’ lives and ability to build wealth.  


Health is a person’s most fundamental asset. Poor health decreases quality of life, inhibits employment, and drains income.  Significant disparities exist in the health status and outcomes of low-income and minority Oklahomans. Inequities largely arise from differences in population health and socioeconomic conditions that are systemic and avoidable.  

RWGBPThere is mounting evidence that health in early childhood provides the physical, cognitive, and social foundation for lifelong health and well-being. Racial and ethnic disparities in prenatal, early childhood, and youth health are evident across several key indicators, summarized in our brief.  African Americans are especially vulnerable to poor health outcomes early in life, with the highest rates of preterm births, low birthweights, and children with special health care needs. They are also least likely to have accessed prenatal care and basic vaccinations.


There is a strong correlation between educational attainment and income.  Countless studies also correlate educational achievement with a host of social goods, like political and civic engagement, lower crime and incarceration rates, and higher intergenerational educational attainment. The racial wealth gap is partially rooted in early gaps in educational attainment, which spill over to create income disparities and eventually wealth disparities.


TransportTransportation is a foundational asset because lack of reliable transportation can inhibit access to stable employment. Without a vehicle, finding and keeping a job is more challenging. There is a wealth of empirical evidence suggesting that car ownership boosts employment and earnings.

Cars expand employment opportunities by enabling workers to consider employment far from bus stops and with flexible scheduling (late night, holiday or overtime shifts). Oklahoma’s metropolitan centers lack comprehensive public transportation and navigating rural areas without a car is a significant obstacle to employment.  People living in communities of color in Oklahomans are almost four times more likely to report having no access to a vehicle [see chart].

Without the foundational assets listed above, securing a job that pays a living wage is all but impossible.  An individual must be healthy, qualified, and able to get to work before they can maintain stable employment and earn income to support their families and save for the future.  The next post in this series will explore disparities by race and ethnicity that spill over from foundational assets into generative assets, which represent Oklahomans’ capacity to earn.


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