Recent good news about gains the national economy – lower unemployment, small declines in the poverty rate, and a booming stock market – is not reflected here in Oklahoma. The 2018 Prosperity Now Scorecard paints a picture of many Oklahoma families struggling to make ends meets and build a better future for themselves. Oklahoma’s 40th place ranking is a decline from our 37th place score last year – which itself was a decline from 34th the year before.
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. It also evaluates 53 different policy measures to determine how well states are addressing the challenges facing their residents.
How is Oklahoma doing?
Oklahoma is struggling. Unemployment and underemployment both decreased slightly last year, but in just about every other measure things are getting worse.
Businesses & Jobs – Oklahoma ranks in the top 15 here largely due to our smaller-than-average gap in the value of businesses owned by people of color and women, and an increase in the percentage of employers offering health insurance (51.6 percent). However, the percentage of jobs in Oklahoma classified as low-wage increased (28.7 percent for 2016 compared to 27.6 percent in 2015), indicating that many families are not doing as well as they could be.
Homeownership & Housing – Oklahoma has made some gains in this area and scored relatively well as a result. We saw a decline in the percentage of delinquent mortgage loans and a small reduction in the percentage of Oklahomans spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs among both home owners (22.7 percent) and renters (44.1 percent).
Financial Assets & Income – Oklahoma struggles with both poverty and inequality. Our income poverty rate (15.5 percent) is still above the national average and income inequality has widened (the richest 20 percent of households now earn nearly five times more than the poorest 20 percent). And debt is a problem in Oklahoma. Three in ten borrowers are using over 75 percent of their credit card limit. One in five Oklahomans are at least 90 days past due on a debt.
Health Care – Basic health care access remains a challenge for many Oklahoma families. Our uninsured rate (16.1 percent) outpaces the national average (10 percent) and it’s twice as high for Oklahomans of color. Too many of us report forgoing a visit to the doctor because of cost (15.4 percent), and one in five Oklahomans have only poor or fair health status.
Education – Perhaps unsurprisingly, we’ve lost significant ground here. Early childhood education enrollment declined, and the percentage of youth who are neither enrolled in school nor employed went up. More than 20 percent of Oklahomans have student loan debt, and of those, one in five are at least 30 days past due on that debt.
What could we be doing better?
Some of the most troubling challenges facing Oklahomans are difficulty building wealth, debt, and access to health care. There are good policy solutions on the table to address these issues.
- 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 credits, 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 against the harms of predatory lending.
- Increased access to health insurance – health is vital to 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 stop limiting access to care and instead ensure all Oklahomans have access to affordable, quality health care.
“At a time when federal policymakers seem increasingly indifferent – or even hostile – to the economic futures of low- and moderate-income Americans, good policy at the state and local levels is more important than ever,” said Solana Rice, director of state and local policy for Prosperity Now. “While some states have made progress, it’s clear we need to do much more to help families achieve financial stability and long-term prosperity.”