Oklahoma slips in new economic rankings

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.

“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.”

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Courtney Cullison worked for OK Policy from 2017 to 2020 as a policy analyst focused on issues of economic opportunity and financial security. Before coming to OK Policy, Courtney worked in higher education, holding faculty positions at the University of Texas at Tyler and at Connors State College in eastern Oklahoma. A native Oklahoman, she received an Honors B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. with emphasis in congressional politics and public policy from the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, Courtney was a fellow at the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center. As a professor she taught classes in American politics, public policy, and research methods and conducted original research with a focus on the relationship between representatives and the constituents they serve.

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