The Weekly Wonk: We can’t undo the past. But together, we can build a better future.

What’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

  • Statement: We can’t undo the past. But together, we can build a better future: During the past week, Americans have expressed pain and outrage in nationwide protests. The protests were sparked by police brutality against the Black community, but they have deep roots in our nation’s systemic racism that has created stunning inequities and lost lives for all people of color for generations. Oklahoma is not immune to these problems. Data and memory clearly and repeatedly show our state has far to go towards equity in economic opportunity, health care, education, the administration of justice, and much more. To effect long overdue change, Oklahomans of all backgrounds must have access to the power and resources necessary to move forward. [OK Policy]
  • Ask OK Policy: 2020 Legislative session overview (video): With the 2020 Legislative session having wrapped its work this year, our OK Policy team looked back at one of the most unusual sessions in state history — one that will be forever linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our analysts discuss what lawmakers accomplished this session, what they may have left undone, and also take a look forward to what needs to be address next year in the areas of budget and tax, criminal justice reform, economic opportunity, education, and voting rights. [OK Policy]
  • …and two steps back. First look at the state’s FY 2021 budget and what must happen next: In what was likely the most unusual — and contentious — budget process in state history, the Legislature passed the state budget for FY 2021. leaders in both chambers allowed more time for questions and debate than when considering prior budgets. This was new and needed relative transparency in the budget process. Hopefully, our Legislative leaders are lifting the veil on the state’s opaque budget process, and we encourage them to bring the process fully into the open next year. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]
  • Unemployment insurance keeps Oklahomans safe, supports the economy: Since March 15, more than 450,000 people have filed new unemployment claims in Oklahoma. These unemployment claims make up nearly 10 percent of our civilian labor force, and it means that a lot of Oklahomans are out of work. For comparison, we’ve seen more claims since mid-March than we saw in all of 2009, the year during the Great Recession that Oklahoma saw the largest number of new unemployment claims. Unemployment insurance will be a critical piece of our ability to weather and recover from this economic and public health emergency. It is in everyone’s best interest for the system to be robust and accessible to all who need it. [Courtney Cullison / OK Policy]
  • Policy Matters: Why data matters: Oklahomans have a right to independently monitor the virus and its impacts within our communities. Access to data ensures that government agencies and officials are held accountable, and residents can ask informed questions about how our government operates. This is as true for the COVID-19 crisis as it is for other areas of public life. [Ahniwake Rose / OK Policy]
  • State obligated to address systemic racism through legislative action: The session began with high hopes for cash bail reform, fines and fees reform, empowering citizen juries, reform of sentencing for second or subsequent offenses, probation reform, “possession with intent” reform, and others. In the end, none of the bills were considered a priority to be considered in the shortened 2020 session. The fact that criminal justice reform is not happening matters. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]
  • Tulsa Race Massacre Remembered on its 99th Anniversary: The 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre was commemorated this past week. Check out state and national about one of the nation’s worst acts of racial violence. [OK Policy]

Weekly What’s That

Coverage crater

This term refers to people in states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid who earn too much for traditional Medicaid but not enough to qualify for subsidies on the online health insurance marketplaces.

When the Affordable Care Act was originally drafted, it was with the expectation that all states would expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) – $29,435 for per year for a family of three in 2019. Meanwhile, people between 138 and 400 percent FPL would have access to subsidies for purchasing health insurance on the online marketplaces, thus providing seamless coverage. However, in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states had a choice in whether or not to expand eligibility. As of March 2019, 14 states have chosen not to, leaving people who would have been covered by Medicaid expansion without access to health insurance, including some 200,000 in Oklahoma. This group constitutes the ‘coverage crater.’

Illustration explaining how coverage crater impacts Oklahomans [PDF]

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

Quote of the Week

“Today if you look at these crowds you will find out that we love our community and we are going to stand and continue to demand justice and keep the pressure on until we see the change that needs to be here.”

-Sheri Dickerson with Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City about Sunday’s rally, which organizers described as a message to city leaders for systemic change to local policing practices. [The Frontier]

Editorial of the Week

The fine art of listening

It’s paramount for the suffering to feel like they’re being heard, and we don’t think that’s happening enough now. People have a passionate desire for expression, and a strong need for their perspectives to be recognized.

Consider this recent Norman Transcript quote from one tired protester.

“This has gone on for too long,” the protester said Tuesday in Norman. “If you don’t see the issue, that’s the issue. I’m tired being followed around the store like I’m about to steal something; I’m tired being scared when a cop comes up behind me when I’m doing absolutely nothing wrong. I’m tired of fearing for my own brother’s life. There should be no reason you should be scared because of something you were born with.”

This sincere conversation should start with whites talking less and listening more. After getting everyone to the table, our civil dialogue can’t just be symbolic. Trust isn’t going to be earned until people really stop hurting.

[Norman Transcript]

Numbers of the Day

  • 10x – The median net worth of white households is about 10 times the median net worth of Black households. A report from the U.S. Federal Reserve found the median wealth for white families was about $171,000, while the median wealth for Black families was $17,600 and for Latino families was $20,700.  
  • 16.8% – May’s unemployment rate for Black workers, which represents an increase of one-tenth of a percent compared to the previous month. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for white workers dropped nearly two percentage points in May to 12.4 percent from 14.2 percent the previous month.
  • 85 – The number of racial profiling complaints against police that have been filed in Oklahoma since 2008. All were returned with a “no cause” finding, with the exception of four pending cases and one that was referred to the FBI in 2013. The annual profiling reports, however, likely provide an incomplete picture of complaints.
  • Zero – Federal laws providing broad nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans. Thirty states also do not provide such protections. 
  • 45% – Percentage of Americans who think the United States hasn’t gone far enough in giving Black people equal rights with whites. The percentage of Black respondents who felt that way was 78 percent compared with 48 percent for Latino respondents and 37 percent for white respondents.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Racial disparities and the income tax system [Tax Policy Center]
  • It’s not obesity. It’s slavery. We know why COVID-19 is killing so many Black people. [Dr. Sabrina Strings / New York Times
  • George Floyd’s death demonstrates the policy violence that devalues Black lives [Brookings]
  • ‘Whiplash’ Of LGBTQ protections and rights [NPR]
  • The case for reparations in Tulsa, Oklahoma: A human rights argument [Human Rights WatchNote: OK Policy’s work was referenced in this report. 


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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