Oklahoma Treasurer Ken Miller says the state economy is continuing to grow, according to the September 5th Democrat article headlined “Oil, natural gas collections boost Okla. revenue.” Miller also reports that, while increasing slightly for 3 months running, the Oklahoma unemployment rate is 5.3% compared to the national average of 7.4%.
Although Treasurer Miller’s facts are accurate, they are only some of the facts we need to know in order to understand the Oklahoma employment situation. We can get a better grasp of the state economy by considering figures provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Using reports from the Departments of Labor and Agriculture and numerous other government information, MIT has built an enormous data bank showing, for the 50 states, thousands of counties, cities, and the smallest of communities, living expenses, living wages, and actual wages.
The report is drawn from actual figures for the specific states and communities. The Oklahoma report is based on Oklahoma figures. MIT’s information on Oklahoma gives us a balanced account of the state economy. Yes, as Treasurer Miller reports, the unemployment rate (5.3%) is lower than the national average.
But the MIT data shows that most of the jobs pay below a living wage. A minimal family of 1 adult and 1 child would need to earn $16.74 an hour to live decently in Oklahoma. It is not a middle-class living I’m referring to; it is a living in which the parent and child make enough money to have a basic diet, home, transportation, and health care.
The figure of $16.74 is $9.49 above the legal minimum wage of $7.25. MIT covers 22 job categories in Oklahoma (for example, management, computer operations, engineering, legal services, cooking, waiting tables, farming, and waste collection). Twelve of these 22, slightly more than half, are below the minimum living wage. And 4 of these categories are actually below poverty wages for a typical American family of 4.
So the great oil and gas production is benefiting company executives and bankers and state revenues. But Oklahoma is not putting the increased revenue into support for better living wages for half the working people of the state. The information cited in this letter can be found at www.livingwage.mit.edu.