Oklahoma’s miseries get outlined so consistently in national report after report that it grows tiresome, but a PEW Center on the States’ study published last May deserves some special attention.
PEW, a nonpartisan think tank focused on government policy, found that Oklahoma is one of the three worse states for economic mobility. The other two worse states are Louisiana and South Carolina.
This means that it’s more difficult to increase your earnings in Oklahoma than the vast majority of the nation in the prime working years of 35 to 39 and 45 to 49. Conversely, it means you’re more likely, as an Oklahoma, to actually see a drop in your earnings than a staggering amount of other Americans during these age ranges.
What this means in the bluntest terms possible is that Oklahoma, when compared to the rest of the nation, is one of the worst places to launch a career or even work.
That, of course, is not something you’re going to see on a chamber of commerce bumper sticker or hear in a speech by Gov. Mary Fallin. I doubt OU President David Boren or OSU President Burns Hargis will ever mention it in their university’s advertisements during televised football games. Business recruiters here probably won’t use the report to convince a company to relocate here.
Reports like this one are the state’s little dirty secrets, buried in an avalanche of false pride and biased reporting by the corporate media, especially in The Oklahoman. Don’t forget this line in Fallin’s 2012 State of the State address: “In Oklahoma, we could teach Washington a lesson or two about fiscal policy and the size and proper role of government.”
Exactly. Oklahoma can teach Washington about fiscal and education policies that make us one of the worst states in the nation to work.
The study speaks for itself, but I have two observations, both centered on education:
- The state continues to starve its educational institutions of needed resources, and this creates the dynamic in which we become known as one of “America’s worse educated states,” according to another study. The state’s number of college graduates is far below the national average, approximately 23 percent compared to 28 percent, and the number has remained stagnant. This brings down the entire economy because the state can’t provide an adequate workforce for many companies that need educated employees. The jobs created, then, beyond executive, management and highly technical positions in the energy industry are more often menial and offer little in the way of advancement. One obvious solution is to create more college graduates to create a better educated pool of employees. This is difficult right now because Republicans politicians, who dominate state government, continue to weaken our educational system through funding cuts.
- The study makes me wonder as an educator and parent whether Oklahoma’s young people need to fully understand their lack of opportunities here. I’m not suggesting that no one can be successful here, of course, but the odds are against people in a severe way judging by the statistics. Do high schools and colleges have a responsibility to open up the world for students to let them know better jobs and salaries await them elsewhere? I think the answer to that, on a moral level, is obvious.
I wrote a 2007 commentary for the Oklahoma Gazette headlined “A bad case of ‘reportitis'” that discussed how many Oklahomans probably feel “report burnout” because of the consistent negative studies that show the state’s major flaws. That was five years ago, and it still holds true today.
The question then and now is whether state leaders will ever do anything about our obvious problems and, more importantly, whether voters will elect candidates with broader visions. All is not okay in OK, especially when we can’t offer our workers in their prime years opportunities for advancement and increased earnings afforded other people throughout the country. It’s time to do something about it. Adequate funding for education should be at the top of anyone’s list.