In The Know: More than one in four Oklahomans unprepared for financial crisis

In The KnowIn The Know is a daily synopsis of Oklahoma policy-related news and blogs. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. E-mail your suggestions for In The Know items to You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that a new report ranks Oklahoma 33rd in the nation in the ability of residents to build wealth and fend off poverty. The Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, co-released by OK Policy and the Corporation for Enterprise Development, shows that while we do well on levels of homeownership, we are in the bottom for income poverty, reliance on predatory lenders and subprime credit, and the number of uninsured. The Journal Record [subscriber only] looks at some proposed laws that would make it even harder to be poor in Oklahoma.

Lawmakers speaking at a StateImpact Oklahoma forum in Stillwater raised doubts about cutting the income tax. Class sizes are continuing to rise in Tulsa-area school districts as they struggle to deal with successive state budget cuts over the past few years. Pay increases for judges and district attorneys look unlikely this year, since they are tied to the salaries of statewide elected officials eager to gain political credit for going without raises.

Oklahoma City is recovering more quickly from the recession than Tulsa, and an economist told the OKC Council that the two cities may be diverging economically. Health Commissioner Terry Cline is proposing a more narrowly focused bill this year in hopes of winning local control of tobacco policies. The OkieBret blog profiled the occupation, religion, and educational backgrounds of Oklahoma’s state legislators.

The Number of the Day is how many Oklahoma children under age 6 need daily child care during the week because their primary caregiver/s participate in the labor force. In today’s Policy Note, Demos shows that the pay premium gained by joining the federal workforce is reserved largely for less-skilled workers, and rather than disparaging public sector pay levels, we should embrace them as standards from which the private sector has shamefully deviated over the last three decades.

In The News

Many Oklahomans lack wealth to fend off poverty, scorecard says

Oklahoma ranks 33rd in the nation in the ability of residents to build wealth and fend off poverty, according to a national study released Tuesday. Article Gallery: Many Oklahomans lack wealth to fend off poverty, report says The state received a grade of D in measurements of Oklahomans’ financial assets and income, and access to health care, according the report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development. Nearly half (48.2 percent) of Oklahomans are “liquid asset poor,” meaning they lack the financial cushion to respond to unemployment or another emergency that causes a loss of income, the report said. “We score very high on the percentage of employers with low-wage work,” said Kate Richey, policy analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “You might have a job, but having a job isn’t enough to make sure you can pay bills but have some extra padding.” Richey said her organization supports the establishment of a statewide Individual Development Account program, which matches savings of low- and middle-income residents to help residents pay for education, buy a home or start a business. Such programs are supplemented with federal grants, she said.

Read more from NewsOK.

Up a Creek: Scorecard shows over a quarter of Oklahomans unprepared to weather financial crisis

In Oklahoma, more than one in four households are “asset poor,” meaning they have little or no financial cushion to rely on if unemployment or another emergency leads to a loss of income, according to a report released today by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). Asset poverty is distinct from and broader than income poverty, which measures the amount of money a household receives during the year. According to the U.S. Census, about one in six Oklahomans were income poor in 2010. Andrea Levere, president of CFED, highlights asset poverty as a significant barrier to long-term financial stability: Growing numbers of Americans have almost no savings or other assets to fall back on if they lose their jobs or face a medical crisis. Without those savings, few will be able to invest in a more economically secure future, including buying a home, saving for their children’s college educations or building a retirement nest egg. The 2012 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard offers a comprehensive look at Oklahomans’ ability to build wealth, fend off poverty, and create a more prosperous future. The Scorecard compares states along 52 different measures of how residents fare in five issue areas: Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Housing & Homeownership, Health Care and Education.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Experts question proposed laws long-term effects on people in poverty

With the state’s poverty rate rapidly approaching 16 percent and nearly one in four Oklahoma children living at or below the poverty line, a series of new legislative proposals could make life even more difficult for the poor and the underprivileged. In fact, according to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the problem of poverty – and the results – is growing worse. OK Policy Director David Blatt said even as the economy improves, a large segment of Oklahoma’s population is encountering ongoing hardship. He cited unemployment and the large number of families that turn to public benefit programs such as food stamps. Those numbers – about a third of the state’s 3.6 million residents already receive some type of nutritional or health-related service from the government – are expected to grow, and a spate of new rules and proposed laws would make being poor in Oklahoma all the more difficult.

Read more from The Journal Record [subscriber only].

Representatives answer community tax concerns

The State Impact Oklahoma forum presented an opportunity for discussion Tuesday night in an effort to educate citizens about the state budget and legislation. The event, co-hosted by KOSU public radio, allowed the public the chance to ask questions concerning the state’s tax situation. The forum at Hideaway Restaurant included Sen. Jim Halligan (R-Stillwater), Rep. Cory T. Williams (D-Stillwater) and Dave Shideler, assistant professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at OSU. Discussion began with questions from the forum hosts, where the question of lowering the state income tax arose early on. “My position on the state income tax is that it has to be revenue neutral,” Halligan said. As the panel explained, revenue neutrality is the means of making up revenue in some other way after giving up the income tax. Williams also voiced his own view on income tax cuts. “It depends on how far you’re going to cut it,” he said. “Unfortunately, the lion’s share is in personal exemptions, and if we eliminate that, it really means a tax increase of $40 to $60 a month on those families in the state of Oklahoma. That is the biggest pot in the chase, and I’m not really sure that is where Oklahoma wants to go.”

Read more from The Daily O’Collegian.

Class sizes swell as state aid declines, enrollment rises

Class size remains a critical issue in some Tulsa-area school districts as they struggle to recover from successive state budget cuts over the past few years. Oklahoma has had class-size restrictions in place since 1990 when House Bill 1017 became law and mandated class sizes of 20 for kindergarten to sixth grade. But as state budget shortfalls grew, the state Legislature in 2010 placed a two-year moratorium on imposing penalties on districts that fail to comply with class-size restrictions. “We really try to protect class size, but this particular year we’ve seen some of our classes at some of our elementary sites on the high side of 25,” said Claremore Superintendent Mike McClaren. Claremore lost more than $5 million to budget cuts the past three years and is operating with 25 fewer teachers, McClaren said. In past years, Union Assistant Superintendent Kathy Dodd said she could hire a teacher based on pre-enrollment figures to ensure appropriate class sizes before school started. But budget cuts in recent years have left no room for additional hires and have forced Union and other school districts to wait until the school year begins to adjust class sizes. That often means teachers are shuffled from one class to another, even one grade to another, to balance class sizes after school has begun, she said.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Pay raise for judges falls victim to politics around elected officials’ salaries

Gov. Mary Fallin has come out against a proposed 6 percent pay hike for statewide elected officials, including her own office. Most of the state’s secondary officeholders lined up with similar statements Tuesday, while state Superintendent Janet Barresi said on Monday that she would turn away the extra money if it were allocated. Meanwhile, House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, reiterated opposition not only to pay hikes for statewide officials but for judges, district attorneys and others. A pending plan to raise judges’ salaries would trigger a series of other pay hikes – from the Governor’s Office down to district attorneys – and would end up costing the state nearly $3 million. In October, the state Board of Judicial Compensation proposed raising judicial salaries at all levels. Judicial salaries were last raised in 2008, so the proposed increase would amount to 1 percent per year since then. State Insurance Commissioner John Doak said he hasn’t asked for a raise and that money wasn’t what drew him to run for office, but he added that judicial salaries deserve their own consideration.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Economist: OKC, Tulsa Gap grows

Economists are concerned that the recession recovery gap between Oklahoma City and Tulsa doesn’t look to be closing as predicted, Oklahoma City Council members were told Tuesday at the city’s annual budget workshop. “Oklahoma City increasingly appears economically independent from Tulsa – a pattern worth watching in the upcoming decade,” said Russell Evans, executive director of Oklahoma City University’s Steven C. Agee Economic Research and Policy Institute. Manufacturing activity is increasingly concentrated in Tulsa, while oil and gas business grows in Oklahoma City. That wasn’t the case a decade ago, but it seems to be part of a long-term trend now, he said. And employment continues to favor Oklahoma City as well. At the end of 2008, just before the national economy fell so steeply, Oklahoma City had just reached its highest, nonfarm employment figure of 577,500. That number has only recently regained its strength at 567,800 jobs as of September, Evans said. But Tulsa is still far below its high number of 434,400 jobs, now at just 416,300.

Read more from The Journal Record [subscriber only].

Narrower focus may give smoke-free measure better chance to succeed

The No. 1 legislative priority for Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline this year is to pass a law that gives municipalities more latitude in going smoke free. A bill carried by House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, wound up getting scuttled over concerns that it could be detrimental to businesses. As QuikTrip spokesman Mike Thornbrugh saw it, one section meant giving cities and towns the ability to restrict merchandising of tobacco products, raise or lower the smoking age, or even to institute an excise tax on smokes. The issue for Cline is that cities and towns in Oklahoma are prohibited from enacting tobacco-related rules that are stricter than state law. His aim is local control, and he cites places such as Texas, where its major cities have used local control to go smoke free.

Read more from NewsOK.

Meet the Oklahoma legislature

Our state Legislature meets every year from February until May. A legislative session covers a two-year period. The 2nd Regular Session of the 53rd Legislature reconvenes on February 6, 2012. The Oklahoma Constitution requires that they Sine Die (adjourn) by 5:00 p.m. on the last Friday in May, which is May 25th this year. Both the State Senate and the House of Representatives have websites where you can look up legislators to see what committees they serve on, where they live, and other biographical information that they choose to share with the public. When I began this project a few months ago, there were 30 members who did not list any information about their educational background. I contacted those members numerous times by email and called their offices and left messages. Only 9 responded with the information I requested. Of the 21 who never responded, two were Democrats and 19 were Republicans (two females and 19 males). Of the information I gathered from their websites, or from their personal responses, the following is a brief profile of the 53rd Oklahoma State Legislature – those who passed new laws last year and will make new laws this year.

Read more from OkieBrent’s Soapbox.

Quote of the Day

We continue to see the privatization of public education for universities. The fraction contributed by the state, not just in Oklahoma, continues to go down, and the fraction paid by the students continues to go up.
Sen. Jim Halligan (R-Stillwater)

Number of the Day

178, 020

Number of Oklahoma children under age 6 who need daily child care during the week because their primary caregiver/s participate in the labor force, 2009

Source: National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Federal workers deserve higher pay — just like other workers

The Congressional Budget Office released a report yesterday revealing that, on average, federal employees earn 16 percent more than their peers in the private sector. And, true to form, austerity hawks in Washington have wasted no time blowing their gaskets in protest. If you take a closer look, you’ll find that the pay disparity between federal workers and their private sector counterparts actually varies greatly by education level: federal civilian workers with a high school diploma or less earn on average about 21 percent more than similar workers in the private sector, while those with a bachelor’s degree earn roughly the same as their private sector counterparts and those with professional degrees ultimately earn about 23 percent less. The pay premium gained by joining the federal workforce is therefore reserved largely for less-skilled workers — once you recognize this, it’s hard to classify higher wages for these folks as a case of wasteful overpayment, since there is virtually no group in the U.S. more impacted by declining wages than Americans with a high school diploma or less. Since 1980, earnings for those without a high school diploma plummeted nearly 21 percent, and those with a high school diploma only saw their earnings increase 2 percent. Rather than disparaging public sector pay levels, we should be embracing them as standards from which the private sector has shamefully deviated over the three decades.

Read more from Demos.

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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