Oklahoma’s income inequality is at an all-time high

Chan Aaron is an OK Policy summer intern. He is pursuing an environmental policy degree at The University of Tulsa. He is also a graduate of Oklahoma State University with a degree in philosophy and a veteran of the United States Navy.

Photo Credit: Kia Cheng Boon / 123rf
Photo Credit: Kia Cheng Boon / 123rf

Rising income inequality has become one of the biggest concerns for U.S. and world leaders in recent years, and for good reason. As recent data from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows, income inequality in the United States is near a historic high not reached since just before the Great Depression. While incomes for Oklahoma households are slightly more equal than the nation as a whole, they are still the highest they have been in the state’s 107-year history.

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s study, the average income of the top 1 percent of Oklahomans in 2012 (the most recent data) was $1,105,521, which is 26 times greater than the average income for the other 99 percent of the state ($41,995). Oklahoma’s 2012 economic disparity numbers ranked 12th highest in the nation.

What did it take to make it into the top 1 percent in Oklahoma in 2012? The income threshold for the top 1 percent was $328,072. To take it one step further, what put an Oklahomans in the top .01 percent? The income threshold for the top .01 percent was $8,371,194, and the average income was $28,439,334. Oklahoma ranked 16th highest in the entire country for average income of the top .01 percent.

These levels of inequality aren’t unique to 2012; however, they are part of a trend that reached its apex at the end of the first four years of recovery following the Great Recession. From 2009 to 2012, overall state income grew by 9.4 percent. However, income for the top earners grew markedly faster (39.6 percent) than the bottom earners (3.5 percent). The top 1 percent captured more than half (69.2 percent) of total growth during the important four-year period of economic recovery.

This outsize share of income growth going to the already-wealthy is part of a larger trend beginning over thirty years ago. Between 1979 and 2012, the top 1 percent’s income grew by a staggering 143.2 percent while they captured 67.9 percent of all Oklahoma growth. Incomes for the entire rest of the state grew by just 8.0 percent during the same period.

Source: Economic Policy Institute
Source: Economic Policy Institute

As the graph shows clearly, income inequality peaked in 1928 then declined rapidly in the 1930s and 1940s and then more moderately late into the 1970s. Beginning in the early 1980s, the share of income held by the top 1 percent ratcheted up with a few scattered decreases. The overall tendency for the last three and a half decades has been for inequality to go sharply upward. As of 2012, Oklahoma finds itself with the largest economic disparity in its entire history.

If the richest Oklahomans have been getting the most benefit from economic trends over the last 35 years, then why do our state legislators continue to approve tax cuts that mostly go to the wealthy while cutting funding for education, public safety, and other core services? When the state cuts funding to public services, the wealthy are hurt least, and low- and middle-income families bear the brunt of the burden. There’s also strong evidence that extreme inequality reduces overall growth, so wealthy and poor alike end up less well off than we could have been if prosperity was more broadly shared. With an economy that is still leaving many families behind, isn’t that just piling on?

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9 thoughts on “Oklahoma’s income inequality is at an all-time high

  1. People are starting to wake up to the fact that, as it stands, if you’re poor you have no chance to break out – none. The only avenue is through the Military – education alone will not do the trick.

    When the federal government cuts domestic spending the burden falls to the states to fund necessary infrastructure. So when you have the Feds giving tax breaks to the wealthy and connected the money pot shrinks further requiring further cuts shifting the costs of society to the bottom through local taxes. Add to that the breaks given on the local level and you have what we have today – the rich get richer and the poor have to pay more for basic services.

    We have a military budget that eats up 50% or more of available money. What does this military do? Protect corporations (American Interests) so they can do business – Iraq – so the oil is available to the open market – instead of the on-off switch that was held by Hussein that was making oil a volatile commodity.

    It’s insane that we spend this much money on the Military that benefits no one other than “American Interests” that show their appreciation by stashing money in safe havens to keep from paying taxes on that revenue to pay for the Military protection.

    If we need to protect “American Interests” overseas let those that benefit from it pay for it. Take the defense budget – chop it up – and make the corporations and wealthy PAY for that protection. We will see how long we actually need our military in foreign locations once they actually have to pay for the protection that they get.

  2. 2 things: First off, the author of this article needs to know that .01 percent is nof the same as 1 percent. .01 percent is equal to one/one-hundred thousandth of a percent. I have a degree in Fine Arts and I know that. It’s either one percent or .01 but if you want to them to be equal, it can’t be written that way. Enough about that. Sorry.

    But the most interesting piece of this article is the Dan’s comment. He stated what many have said in the past but for some reason it clicked with me today. If the fantastically large companies want protection for their monies, then why don’t they hire those who are willing to go to war to protect ‘them?’ Hire them, train them, pay them and take responsibility for them entirely. (Yes, I know why not…) Contract armies of those who choose this as their life’s ambition? Wouldn’t that change the fabric of the entire world?

    Oh, never mind. This article was about the ever widening gap of the haves and the have nots. It has nothing to do with big corps paying for what is rightfully theirs. Or does it?…..

  3. DON… THANK YOU FOR YOUR GREAT COMMENT!I agree with everything you’ve passionately written and hope and pray that one day,in my lifetime, I live to see this government do right by ALL its citizens, and not just a “select few”.

  4. sigh…annie, obviously your degree is NOT in math. 0.01 percent is 1/100th of 1%. A 1%er is a 1 in 100 person. A 0.01%er is a 1 in 10,000 person. Since there are almost 3.9 million people in Oklahoma, the statistics he was giving for the 0.01% people, are those for the richest ~390 people in Oklahoma (who earned at least 8 million, but on average ~28 million, dragged upward I’m sure by people like Harold Hamm).

  5. Over and over I read comments and studies by liberals concerned about rising income disparity. Despite the fact that there have been Republicans in the White House (one, Reagan, actually conservative), the fact is that overwhelmingly liberal policies have long been in place in this country. Income disparity has been increasing, nevertheless. I think this is occurring at least partly BECAUSE of liberal policies, not despite them. We’ve made whole swaths of our population dependent. We’ve made higher education ridiculously expensive. We’ve made public education almost irrelevant by dumbing it down.

    As for giving corporations unfair advantage, there just is no group more willing and anxious to do this than liberals. Who’s arguing against the Export-Import bank? Conservatives. Who keeps arguing for simpler and fairer income tax code? Conservatives. Who opposes “economic development authorities?” Conservatives. Who is trying to roll back professional licensing that blocks opportunity? Conservatives. Who has defended Uber and Lyft? Conservatives. Who would free parents to find the best school for their kids? Conservatives.

    The list goes on and on.

  6. Byron, you have posted a bunch of speculation, but no real evidence that liberal policies are the problem. The fact is that liberal policies such as welfare, medicaid/medicare, and other support programs are reducing the rate of income inequality. While conservative policies such as reducing these programs and education and overall any government investment have led to long term income inequality. This income inequality leads to political inequality which allows the top 1% to buy election and dictate policy that is meant to help keep them in to top and make it difficult for others to rise up. Oklahoma conservatives in particular have made huge disinvestments in education, which is going to make it extremely difficult for many to get a higher education, which is one of the most sure ways to future income prosperity.

  7. Services that trickle down for the lower income strata can only improve if those in the lower income levels vote for politicians that will make it happen. The old demagogy continue to get re-elected so what do folks think is going to change? Nothing! The 1% only have 1% of the votes folks–go figure. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the power to change things is in the voting booth. Time to stop griping about poor schools, poor medical services, etc. Throw out the incumbent bums in office and elect some real champions of the working class. I’m not a socialist by any means but hey, the vast amount it tax revenues come from the working class. The services should be proportionately distributed! Throw the bums out–make it happen!

  8. Why are Oklahomans complaining about our government?
    We elected each and every member of the Oklahoma house and senate and they are performing as predicted.
    They have been giving us our just desserts and we have been re-electing them.

  9. Why are Oklahomans complaining about our circumstance?
    We elected and re-elected our governor. We also elected each and every member of our state’s house and senate, all of whom have preformed predictably and are providing our just desserts.

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