Weekly Wonk: Housing is unaffordable for Oklahoma’s low-wage workers | Tax incentives can bring short-term gains, long-term pains | Capitol Update

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

Housing is unaffordable for Oklahoma’s low-wage workers: Oklahomans working a full-time job should be able to provide basic needs for themselves and their families, but 2 in 5 Oklahomans are unable to afford a stable home working one full-time job. The combination of rising housing costs and stagnant wages is keeping too many Oklahomans from being able to secure safe and stable housing for their families. To address this affordable housing crisis policymakers must find solutions that close the gap between housing costs and wages. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

A look at leadership in the state House and Senate (Capitol Update): The House and Senate went into session for “organizational day” last week and the leadership teams in each chamber were formally elected. There wasn’t a lot of change in either chamber. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Policy Matters: Tax incentives can bring short-term gains, long-term pains: Tax incentives are used as part of economic development by governments to provide tax exemptions, deductions, or credits in exchange for expected future spending. But a closer look shows that some economic development incentives realize only limited short-term gains that can be outweighed by long-term negative consequences. [Shiloh Kantz / The Journal Record]

Upcoming Opportunities

Together Oklahoma: Pontotoc County Community Meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 17: Join us for a discussion about criminal justice in Oklahoma. Share your thoughts and learn about resources and advocacy in your community. Location: East Central University, Chickasaw Business and Conference Center, 830 E Main Street in Ada. [Learn more]

Weekly What’s That

Minimum Wage

The minimum wage is the lowest wage per hour that may be paid by law to most employees in most jobs. The U.S. federal government first adopted a national minimum wage in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and it has been raised by Congress over twenty times since then. 

The federal minimum wage was set as $7.25 per hour effective July 2009. As of 2022, the federal minimum wage has remained unchanged for over 13 years, the longest period ever without an increase. During this period, the minimum wage has lost over 27 percent of its value when adjusted for inflation, and some 40 percent of its value compared to its peak in 1968.

As of 2022, Oklahoma is one of 20 states that has a minimum wage set at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Meanwhile, 30 states and D.C. have set a higher minimum, of which 20, including four of Oklahoma’s neighbors (Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Colorado), are higher than $10 per hour. In addition, 46 cities have set a local minimum wage higher than their state minimum. However, the Oklahoma Legislature in 2014 passed a preemption law prohibiting municipalities from setting their own minimum wage.

Some employees may be paid less than the minimum wage, also known as the subminimum wage. For example, an employer in Oklahoma may pay a tipped employee as little as $2.13 an hour in direct wages if that amount plus the tips received equal at least the federal minimum wage, the employee retains all tips, and the employee customarily and regularly receives more than $30 a month in tips. Employers may also gain authorization to pay subminimum wages to workers who have disabilities for the work being performed. Certain young workers and full-time student workers may also be paid less than the standard minimum wage.

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

Quote of the Week

“Even for full-time workers, wages are insufficient to afford housing for Oklahoma’s low-wage earners. More than 1 in 5 Oklahomans working a single, full-time job cannot afford a modest one-bedroom rental at fair market rent, while 2 in 5 cannot afford a two-bedroom rental.”

– Sabine Brown, OK Policy’s Infrastructure and Access Senior Policy Analyst, speaking on the current state of the affordable housing crisis. [Sabine Brown / OK Policy]

Editorial of the Week

Editorial: Don’t fall for distractions from State Superintendent Ryan Walters

Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters wasted no time in throwing out the first red herring of his governance by saying his No. 1 priority is getting rid of “liberal indoctrination” and resumed his car videos with a pledge to revoke licenses of two teachers with whom he has a political disagreement.

This is a distraction playing to a fringe with no base in reality. It’s a sleight-of-hand trick to draw attention from other things. Don’t fall for it.

Anyone with knowledge of Oklahoma’s current state of public education knows the biggest challenges are in the workforce, resources and youth mental health.

Numbers of the Day

  • 73 – Number of hours a person working minimum wage needs to work each week to afford a one-bedroom rental at fair market rent. [National Low Income Housing Coalition]
  • 17 in 30 – On average, 17 of the 30 most common professions in Oklahoma —  including teacher assistants, home health aides, and customer service representatives — pay less than the $16.61 per hour needed to afford a two-bedroom rental home. [National Low Income Housing Coalition]
  • 2009 – Minimum wage in Oklahoma was last increased when the federal rate was increased in July 2009. [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • $4.4 billion – Amount of targeted tax expenditures made available to Oklahoma businesses and organizations in 2018. This was up from $500 million in 2010. [A Better Path Forward / OK Policy] | [Oklahoma Tax Commission Tax Expenditure Report, 2021-22]
  • 26.4% – Rent increased 26.4 percent in Oklahoma City between March 2020 and December 2022. In Tulsa, that increase was 24.4 percent for the same time period. [Apartment List]

What We’re Reading


Hana Saad joined OK Policy in August 2022 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She graduated from the University of Tulsa with degrees in Media Studies and English and is part of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society. At TU, Hana regularly wrote for The Collegian and was the Co-Editor of the Stylus Journal of Art and Writing. She also serves on the team at Puppy Haven Rescue to help in their mission of saving rescue dogs across Oklahoma. Hana is eager to learn more about public policy in Oklahoma and use her skills to support the OKP work to build a more equitable state. In her free time, she loves to read fiction and poetry, walk her dog, and make copious cups of tea.

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