In The Know: OKC again posts lowest jobless rate for large cities

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. You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.

Today you should know that the OKC metro area had the lowest unemployment rate among the nation’s largest metropolitan areas for the fifth-straight month. Oklahoma’s Business Conditions Index fell in June as the drought hurt economic growth. David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed how unregulated payday loans trap Oklahomans on a treadmill of chronic borrowing.

Native American groups are wary of a proposal that would give the state control over federal workforce development funds that currently go to tribes. The U.S. District Court will not stop the Kialegee Tribal Town from operating a restaurant, sports bar or other nongaming businesses on land where there attempts to build a casino have brought resistance.

The OK Policy Blog discusses why any lawmakers or regulators who want to return money to Oklahomans should make energy efficiency a high priority. Lack of funding is slowing research into possible health problems of people living near natural gas drilling. Deaths from work-related accidents in Oklahoma’s oil and gas fields are the highest they’ve been years.

The Oklahoma Gazette examines why Oklahoma is consistently among the unhealthiest states in the nation. Community health centers are working to treat the state’s estimated 625,000 uninsured residents as well as those who don’t regularly go to doctors. A lawyer representing a death row inmate is questioning whether 20 newly acquired doses of a drug used in Oklahoma executions are intended for human use.

The Number of the Day is how many employers that have used Oklahoma’s work-sharing program since it was enacted. In today’s Policy Note, the Brookings Institution shows that Mitt Romney’s tax plan would provide large tax cuts to high-income households and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.

In The News

Oklahoma City again posts lowest jobless rate for large cities

For the fifth-straight month, the Oklahoma City metro area had the lowest unemployment rate among the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, the U.S. Labor Department said Wednesday. The Oklahoma City metro’s unemployment rate was 5 percent in June, the lowest among 49 metro areas across the nation with a population of at least 1 million. However, that rate was up from 4.5 percent in May, the figures show. Nationwide, unemployment rates were lower in June than a year earlier in 328 of the 372 metropolitan areas, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said. The jobless rate was higher in 32 areas, and unchanged in 12 areas. Meanwhile, unemployment rates increased in June in all but one of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission reported.

Read more from NewsOK.

Leading economic gauge slides further as drought hurts growth

A leading economic gauge for Oklahoma continued its slide in July, although it still pointed to growth in the months ahead. Oklahoma’s Business Conditions Index slumped to 52.7 from 56.8 in June, according to a report released Wednesday by Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. The index, taken from a survey of businesses, is derived from new orders, production or sales, employment, inventories and delivery lead time. A number greater than 50 signals expansion in the next three to six months, and a number less than 50 indicates economic contraction. “With drought conditions in all of the state’s 77 counties, it was not surprising to measure a decline in Oklahoma’s leading economic indicator,” Ernie Goss, director of Creighton’s Economic Forecasting Group, said in a written comment.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

David Blatt: Burning the furniture to heat the house

Despite Oklahoma’s strong economy, thousands of households are living paycheck to paycheck and, all too often, falling short of meeting their monthly expenses. For many families, a payday loan or similar product is a quick and easy solution to their cash flow problem. Unfortunately, using high-interest loans to supplement a limited income is like burning your furniture to heat your house: It provides momentary relief but quickly leaves you worse off. Payday loans were first authorized by the state Legislature in 2003. There are now 354 active payday lending locations in Oklahoma – more than the number of McDonald’s, QuikTrips and Walmart stores combined. Oklahoma was recently ranked by the 24/7 Wall Street blog as the state with the highest prevalence of payday lending. A borrower taking out a $300 two-week payday loan pays $45 in fees, which amounts to an APR of 391 percent. Perhaps even more alarming than the high cost of each loan is the many payday loan customers who get trapped on a treadmill of chronic borrowing.

Read more from The Journal Record.

Native American groups wary of proposal to give state control over workforce funds

The shy smile from K. C. Warledo didn’t match the gravity of her response when asked where she’d be without Job Corps. “Honestly, I think I’d be homeless,” said Warledo, 19. The self-described 10th-grade dropout of Cheyenne heritage is among the nearly 250 youth who live and learn at the Talking Leaves Job Corps Center, a residential training program in Tahlequah. Operated by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, the center’s population isn’t limited to Native Americans, though it is one of only a few centers nationally run by Native American tribal groups. But the center and several other workforce training programs operated by Oklahoma tribal groups may be swept up in political activity aimed at streamlining federal workforce development programs. The measure, known as the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012, would strengthen the state’s role in allocating workforce development funds to the detriment of Native Americans, according to the group.

Read more from Urban Tulsa Weekly.

Judge won’t stop Kialegees from running nongaming business at Broken Arrow site

The U.S. District Court will not stop the Kialegee Tribal Town from operating a restaurant, sports bar or other nongaming businesses on a Muscogee (Creek) allotment in Broken Arrow. In an order issued Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell said that while the court does have jurisdiction over the state’s request to prevent a casino from operating on the land, it does not have jurisdiction over the construction and operation of a restaurant or sports bar. Frizzell’s past ruling, in which he said he would entertain a motion to modify the injunction if the defendants sought an alternate use for the property and had the necessary approvals from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and/or the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, was stricken.

Read more from The Tulsa World.

Energy Efficiency: ‘It’s fruit lying on the ground’

The way that Americans produce and consume energy is at a major transition point. We’ve seen the emergence of powerful, parallel trends: a dramatic expansion of natural gas production, steadily growing renewable sources, growing concerns about climate change, reliance on foreign oil, and the health effects of burning coal, and new ideas for improving energy efficiency. Together these trends mean that our energy use over the next few decades will look very different than it does today. A looming deadline for Oklahoma is 2020. In that year or soon after, OG&E expects rising demand to require construction of an additional fossil fuel plant, at a cost of billions of dollars to ratepayers. Oklahoma’s other major utility, PSO-AEP, expects major new power generation capacity to be necessary by 2019. Fortunately, there are proven strategies that we can use to continue living within our means and push back the need for costly new power plants. Discussion about energy tends to focus on flashy new technologies like hydraulic fracturing (fracking), solar panels, and electric cars. However, the most cost-effective, accessible way to achieve our goals is more mundane – doing more with the energy we already have.

Read more from the OK Policy Blog.

Lack of funding slows research into possible health effects of gas drilling

Is gas drilling ruining the air, polluting water and making people sick? The evidence is sketchy and inconclusive, but a lack of serious funding is delaying efforts to resolve those pressing questions and creating a vacuum that could lead to a crush of lawsuits, some experts say. A House committee in June turned down an Obama administration request to pay for research on how drilling may affect water quality. In the spring, Pennsylvania stripped $2 million of funding that included a statewide health registry to track respiratory problems, skin conditions, stomach ailments and other illnesses potentially related to gas drilling. “It’s almost as if it’s a secret, that they don’t want to know about people who are affected,” said Janet McIntyre, who lives near a drilling area about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. “There’s a lot of people in my neighborhood that have rashes and little red spots.” Disputes over possible effects on drinking water have already led to lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Texas and other states. In June, Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy agreed to a $1.6 million settlement with Pennsylvania families who say their wells were ruined, though the company didn’t acknowledge any fault.

Read more from the Shawnee News-Star.

The human toll of a drilling boom in Oklahoma

Debates over American energy policy often center on the environment and independence. But states like Oklahoma depend on petroleum — especially workers in the oil and gas fields. Technology has fueled a boom and revolutionized production, but the task of extracting oil and gas is still hands-on, high-pressure and high-risk. Politicians argue over industry regulation, but workplace safety discussions are often below the surface. But deaths from work-related accidents in Oklahoma’s oil and gas fields are the highest they’ve been years. Nine men have died from accidents in Oklahoma’s oil and gas fields since October 2011, when the federal fiscal year began. That’s the industry’s highest rate since 2008, when 14 people died in oilfield accidents in Oklahoma, data from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration show.

Read more from StateImpact Oklahoma.

Why is Oklahoma among the unhealthiest states in the nation?

Oklahoma consistently ranks at the top of the “worst states” list when it comes to health-related issues. Perhaps not coincidentally, it is among the bottom tier of states for health coverage. Families USA, a health care consumer advocacy group, lists Oklahoma as among the top 10 states “dying for health coverage.” According to Gallup, about 22 percent of all Oklahomans are uninsured, making it the 47th worst state in the nation, in terms of lacking coverage. With the Affordable Care Act likely to shrink the number of uninsured significantly, there are several health-related areas — obesity, diabetes and tobacco deaths, particularly — in which Oklahoma has serious room for improvement.

Read more from the Oklahoma Gazette.

Community Health Centers offer preventive care to Oklahoma’s uninsured

Nearly 50 community health centers are poised to treat the state’s estimated 625,000 uninsured residents as well as those who don’t regularly go to doctors, supporters of the nonprofit centers said Wednesday. The centers accept patients on Medicaid and Medicare, as well as those who have insurance. They also offer a deeply discounted pharmacy and a sliding fee scale for uninsured patients, who make up about 17 percent of the state’s population. They serve more than 130,000 patients annually; 40 percent are uninsured and 30 percent are on Medicaid, said Steve Ronck, deputy state Health Department commissioner for community and family health services. The health centers in Oklahoma received $31 million in federal grants in 2010; they also received Medicaid reimbursement fees and money from state and local governments and foundations. About 8 percent of revenues came from patients who paid for services themselves.

Read more from NewsOK.

Oklahoma’s execution drug supply questioned by attorney

A lawyer representing death row inmate Michael Hooper is questioning whether 20 newly acquired doses of a drug used in Oklahoma executions are intended for human use, court records show. The attorney representing Hooper, who is scheduled to die Aug. 14, is asking a federal judge to delay the inmate’s execution until the state Corrections Department provides more information about the 20 doses of pentobarbital it bought in July. The drug had become extremely scarce in recent months and there were no known suppliers of the powerful sedative for human use, Hooper’s attorney, Jim Drummond, wrote in a court filing Tuesday. “Plaintiff has strong reasons to suspect that the 20 pentobarbital doses acquired by Oklahoma as announced on July 11, 2012, are veterinary drugs, and not pentobarbital that has been manufactured or approved for use in humans,” Drummond wrote.

Read more from NewsOK.

Quote of the Day

It is a known fact that it is cheaper to prevent than to treat, so access to basic health care for all Oklahomans makes a lot more sense.

-Greta Stewart, executive director of the Oklahoma Primary Care Association

Number of the Day


Number of employers that have used Oklahoma’s work-sharing program since it was enacted in 2010, largely due to a restrictive condition in the law that prevents it from being useful.

Source: Oklahoma Policy Institute

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

On the Distributional Effects of Base-Broadening Income Tax Reform

This paper examines the tradeoffs among three competing goals that are inherent in a revenue-neutral income tax reform—maintaining tax revenues, ensuring a progressive tax system, and lowering marginal tax rates. As a motivating example, we estimate the degree to which individual income tax expenditures would have to be limited to achieve revenue neutrality under the individual income tax rates and other features advanced in presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s tax plan, and how the required reductions in tax breaks could change the distribution of the tax burden across households. (We do not score Governor Romney’s plan directly, as certain components of his plan are not specified in sufficient detail, nor do we make assumptions regarding what those components might be.) Our major conclusion is that a revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed – including reducing marginal tax rates substantially, eliminating the individual alternative minimum tax (AMT) and maintaining all tax breaks for saving and investment – would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers.

Read more from Brookings.

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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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