A thriving middle class doesn't just happen by accident -- it's a combination of good jobs and good public policy that protects families.
Recent legislation has kept us from this ideal. In fact, one in four children in Oklahoma lives in poverty, and safety nets continue to shrink.The state has created an annual budget crisis by consistently cutting taxes for the wealthiest earners in the state and approving some of the lowest gross production tax rates in the nation. To fund these cuts, the state has made dramatic budget cuts to poor and working class families, even cutting the state earned income tax credit deduction. It has failed to raise teacher pay since 2008. It has allowed prisons to become dangerously overcrowded, while operating them with minimal staff who are paid far below the national average. In 2016 to balance the budget, it cut mental health services to 77,000 people in half. Year after year, it has cut funding to state universities, increasing the debt load on students and their families. A recent article in the Guardian summed it up this way: "Oklahoma isn't working. Can anyone fix this failing American State?"
Our economic justice action team believes that creating the space for families to share their stories about what is happening to them in this economy is the first step in turning things around. VOICE leaders have been studying the economic challenges facing Oklahoma families. Only 44% of families in our state would be considered economically healthy, meaning they have adequate income to pay cover monthly living expenses and a savings account to handle emergencies. However, our families are ill-prepared for retirement, with our state ranking 50th in overall retirement readiness.
Oklahoma is the number one user of payday loans per capita in the United States. A 2012 Pew study found that more Oklahomans took out 17 such loans in one year than just one! To learn more about payday lending and take action, click here!