The Weekly Wonk: Income inequality at all-time high, the benefits of SNAP, and more

the_weekly_wonkWhat’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

This week on the OK Policy Blog, summer intern Chan Aaron looked at data showing income inequality in Oklahoma is at its highest point in the state’s 107-year history. David Blatt discussed how the SNAP program is among the most effective ways that our nation helps hard-working families to stay afloat and ensures that children have enough to eat.

Summer intern Derek Wietelman weighed the pros and cons of Oklahoma’s push to shift us to natural gas-powered vehicles. Steve Lewis compared recent comments by President Obama and Governor Fallin in support of smart on crime reforms, and he discussed why Oklahoma to do much more to reduce incarceration.

David Blatt’s Journal Record column talked about why it’s important to listen for the more civil voices when political controversies bring out a lot of divisive rhetoric.

OK Policy in the News

Gene Perry was quoted in a Journal Record story (paywalled) about a legislative interim study that is looking at privatizing all or part of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. He said, “Privatization sometimes makes sense, like when a company can perform a task that the government cannot. [But that’s] not so for business recruitment and subsidy distribution. I don’t think you can point to anything the private sector does that’s anything like that. But you can find plenty of reasons why the private sector would have more of a conflict of interest if they’re deciding who wins these subsidies.”

Weekly What’s That

Food Insecurity

Food security is defined as “ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.” The measure was introduced by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1996 to assess households’ ability to consistently obtain three nutritionally adequate meals a day. Households can be rated as being food secure, low food secure, or very low food secure. Read more.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“I told her, ‘It sounds like to me you’re about to become the judge, prosecutor and jury.’ I said, ‘Please ma’am, don’t turn my son into a statistic. He needs care.’”

-Johnny Magness, the stepfather of Monroe Bird III, a 21-year-old Tulsan who was shot by a security guard while sitting in a car with a friend and left paralyzed from the neck down. Magness was speaking to an official with HealthCare Solutions Group, an insurance claims processor that denied coverage to the young man because they said his injuries resulted from “illegal activity”, even though he was never charged with a crime. Bird was sent home from the hospital and later died  from a preventable complication often seen in paralyzed patients (Source).

See previous Quotes of the Day here.

Editorial of the Week

Arnold Hamilton, The Journal Record:

“[Governor] Fallin no doubt will continue to argue Oklahoma won’t be able to afford Medicaid expansion once federal support drops to 90 percent. The state, after all, is staring at a $1 billion hole next year. Of course, this is a budget crisis of state leadership’s own making – the result of imprudent income tax cuts that primarily benefited the state’s wealthiest. It is made worse by the decline in oil and gas revenues – again, wholly predictable, given that the industry is historically boom-bust. 

What state budget writers can’t or refuse to see is that by improving health outcomes, Oklahoma can expect a more productive, taxpaying workforce – fewer uninsured who all too often end up tapping taxpayer-financed services when manageable health problems, ignored because of costs, become cataclysmic.”

Numbers of the Day

  • 61.5% – Percentage of Oklahoma births covered by Medicaid in fiscal year 2014.
  • 8,900 – Number of jobs Oklahoma has lost since December 2014, more than any state except West Virginia.
  • 18.1% – Percentage of low-income, uninsured Oklahomans with a serious mental illness or substance abuse condition, for a total of 47,261 Oklahomans.
  • 17% – Share of households in the Lawton metro area with “severe cost burdens” because housing costs consumed more than 50 percent of their income. Lawton has the highest percentage of residents burdened by housing costs in the state.
  • 124,747 – The number of Oklahoma workers employed at “food services and drinking places”, the largest employment sector in the state in the 3rd quarter of 2014. Workers in this sector also made the lowest average monthly earnings in the state at $1,171.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

What We’re Reading

  • Colorado’s effort to reduce teen pregnancies by offering free long-acting birth control devices is a startling success [New York Times].
  • Place-based economic development programs for poor communities haven’t accomplished much in the past, but the new Promise Zone initiative by the Obama administration hopes to changes that by tackling a larger spectrum of social and health needs [Governing].
  • Medicaid expansion is producing large gains in health coverage and saving states money. Hospitals in expansion states are treating fewer uninsured patients, and the amount of uncompensated care they are providing is declining steeply [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities].
  • Americans making under $30,000 can already send their children to college for free, but too many low-income Americans mistakenly assume that college is too expensive for them and aren’t given information about financial aid early enough to prepare for college [Hechinger Report].
  • Immigrants have gravitated to many of the urban areas that were most distressed 40 years ago and have contributed to their economic revival. Contrary to widespread beliefs, high concentrations of immigrants are also associated with lower crime rates [American Prospect].


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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