As an anti-poverty agency, CAP’s ultimate vision is that the children we serve today move up the economic ladder so that when they are adults their children are not born into poverty. But according to a new study by the Pew Economic Mobility Project, the headwinds facing Oklahomans are particularly strong.
An interactive map shows clearly Oklahoma, along with Louisiana and South Carolina, have worse than average mobility rates on three measures — absolute mobility (residents’ average earnings growth over time), relative mobility (residents’ rank on the earnings ladder relative to their peers), and updward / downward movement along that ladder. Another six states perform worse than the national average on two of the three measures. Interestingly, Texas and Florida, states without income taxes, are two of those six states.
The study looked at average earnings of adults ages 35-39 between 1978 and 1997, and compared them to average earnings of the same sample ten years later. 14% of the Oklahomans experienced absolute mobility, compared to 17% as a national average, and a maximium of 23% in Connecticuit. Relative upward mobility was higher across the board than absolute mobility - 30% in Oklahoma compared to 34% national average and a high of 49%, again in Connecticuit. But, 33% of the Oklahomans experienced downward economic mobility, compared to 28% nationally. And this was before the economic recession of 2008.
The study did not analyze why some states offer better or worse opportunities for residents to move up the earnings ladder. Pew’s larger study on mobility, however, demonstrates that a host of factors including postsecondary educational attainment, savings and assets, and neighborhood povery during childhood — all factors where Oklahoma falls short — matter. In other words, there is no silver bullet. States must consider the context in which its citizens build human capital and figure out how to support that growth.