There are quite a few reasons to be optimistic about Oklahoma this year. Unemployment is low and the state expects to have a budget surplus this year, the first in quite some time. But despite this good news, too many Oklahomans are still struggling to make ends meet and build a better future for themselves and their families. For the third straight year, Oklahoma has dropped in the Prosperity Now Scorecard rankings. This year, we rank 43rd in the financial health and overall well-being of our residents – that’s down from 34th in 2016.
The Prosperity Now Scorecard uses the most recent data available from several sources to offer the most comprehensive look available at Americans’ ability to save and build wealth, move out of — and stay out of — poverty, and create a more prosperous future. The Scorecard also evaluates 28 different outcome measures to determine how well states are doing in creating an environment that makes it easier for their citizens to get ahead.
Too many Oklahomans are struggling with financial security
- Businesses & Jobs: Oklahoma is doing relatively well in this category, ranking 40th or below in only one of the eight measurements. Our unemployment rate is lower than the national rate, and nearly half of private employers in the state offer health insurance. But the percentage of jobs in Oklahoma classified as “low-wage” — more than one in four — outpaces the national rate, indicating that many Oklahomans are working hard for paychecks that are too small to meet their basic needs.
- Homeownership & Housing: Oklahoma only ranks 40th or below in one of seven measures here, but that’s not to say that we’re doing well. We did see a decline in the percentage of delinquent mortgage loans. But that was accompanied by an increase in the percentage of Oklahomans spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs (45.5 percent of renters and 23.9 percent of homeowners). And we rank 43rd in the percentage of home loans with an annual percentage rate significantly higher than average — nearly one in ten.
- Financial Assets & Income: Oklahoma struggles with both poverty and inequality. Our income poverty rate, meaning households with income below the poverty threshold, remains above the national average, and income inequality remains high, as the richest 20 percent of Oklahoma households earn nearly five times more than the poorest 20 percent. And entirely too many Oklahomans are just one minor emergency away from financial disaster. More than one-third of Oklahoma households do not have a savings account, and only three in five Oklahomans have access to revolving credit they could use to cope with an unexpected expense. As a state, we rank in the bottom ten in nine of the fifteen measurements of financial health.
- Education: While Oklahoma has made some progress here, we still rank in the bottom ten states in five of the nine measurements for education. Early childhood education enrollment climbed slightly to 44.6 percent, and math proficiency improved; now nearly one in four Oklahoma 8th graders perform at or above their grade level. But just 25.5 percent of Oklahoma adults have a degree from a four-year college, and one in five of us who used student loans to pay for college is more than thirty days behind on loan payments.
- Health Care: This is where Oklahoma struggles most, with a rank in the bottom ten states on all six measures in this category. Our uninsured rate (16.6 percent) is the second-highest in the nation, and nearly one in ten of our low-income children do not have health insurance. In turn, one in six of us report forgoing a visit to the doctor because of the cost. Overall, one in five Oklahomans report only poor or fair health status. Only five states fared worse on that measure.
Significant racial gaps exist in our largest cities
This year, the scorecard added a new measure, racial disparity, which measures the gaps in outcomes between white residents and residents of color. As a state, Oklahoma ranks 8th in this new category. This means that when we look at the state as a whole, we see comparatively small gaps in the well-being of white Oklahomans and Oklahomans of color. But our top-ten ranking here comes with some significant caveats. First, the fact that we see comparatively small gaps in Oklahoma doesn’t mean that we’re all doing equally well. In Oklahoma’s case, it means that a lot of white Oklahomans (especially in rural Oklahoma) are struggling just as much as Oklahomans of color — we’re all finding it difficult to make ends meet.
And despite our relatively even statewide outcomes, significant racial disparities do exist in Oklahoma’s largest cities. For example, in the Oklahoma City metro area, households of color are three times as likely as white households to experience income poverty and twice as likely to be uninsured. In the Tulsa metro area, a white person is 1.6 times more likely to have a four-year college degree than a person of color. These disparities must be addressed, not just to help Oklahomans of color achieve lasting prosperity, but to help all Oklahomans do better.
What Could We Be Doing Better?
Some of the most troubling challenges facing Oklahomans are difficulty building wealth, debt, and access to health care. Fortunately, we have good policy solutions to address these issues, such as:
- Refundable tax credits for working families: The Earned Income Tax Credit has a proven history of helping to lift working families out of poverty. But in order for families to receive the full benefits of this credit, it must be refundable – families must be able to claim the credit even if the amount exceeds their income tax liability. That’s why it’s important that legislators restore the refundability of our state EITC.
- Protection from predatory lending: Oklahomans use payday loans at a higher rate than residents of any other state, and these predatory loans trap working families in a cycle of debt that can be nearly impossible to escape. Oklahoma needs stronger policies to protect our people from predatory lenders.
- Increased access to health insurance: Good health is vital to a full and productive life. But for too many Oklahomans, a lack of access to health care puts them at risk of debilitating illness and massive debt. Oklahoma must ensure all Oklahomans have access to affordable, quality health care.
These rankings tell us that Oklahoma does face significant challenges. But the good news is that we have the opportunity to reverse course and set Oklahoma on a path to a more prosperous and sustainable future. Please contact your state representative and senator and ask them to support policies that help Oklahoma families build wealth and economic prosperity for themselves and our state.