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It’s been a slow recovery. With the January release of CFED’s annual 2014 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, we have further proof of this fact. The report, Treading Water in the Deep End, shows many American families are financially insecure, and this includes a growing number of Oklahomans.

2013_scorecardIn Oklahoma, it is estimated 49% of households live in a persistent state of financial insecurity, with no little or no savings to cover emergencies. This is up from last year’s estimate of 43.8% of Oklahomans who were considered “liquid asset poor.” Poor showings in areas related to income, assets, healthcare and education contributed to Oklahoma’s overall rank of 31, compared to other states.

The Assets and Opportunity Scorecard examines the financial security of Americans by assessing states based on 69 different outcome measures. The measures are grouped into five broader categories: 1) Financial Assets and Income, 2) Business and Jobs; (more…)

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Poverty is not isolated to families where adults are unemployed or underemployed. According to 2011 data from the National Center for Children in Poverty, 33% of children living in poverty in Oklahoma have at least one parent who works full-time, year-round.

Oklahoma also has one of the highest proportions of hourly paid workers earning at or below the federal minimum wage in the country, at 7.2%. Only Idaho and Texas have higher rates. And escaping poverty level wages is not as easy as applying for a new job. The Alliance for a Just Society released a report December 4th that found,

“For every projected job opening above a low-wage threshold of $15 an hour, there were 7 job-seekers in 2012.”

Furthermore, while jobs lost during the Great Recession were not exclusive to any one sector, a 2012 report from the National Employment Law Project confirms most job losses were concentrated in mid-wage occupations. In contrast, the recovery has seen gains in the number of lower-wage occupations.

Jobs Lost in Recession_ NELP

Low-wage occupations that increased during and after the recession include “retail salespersons, food preparation workers, laborers and freight workers, (more…)

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As I write this, we are less than 3 days away from dramatic spending cuts for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Nearly 48 million Americans rely on SNAP benefits, and every one of them will see a decrease in monthly benefits beginning November 1st.

           nov snap cuts cbpp

Dottie Rosenbaum, writing for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ (CBPP) Off the Charts blog, puts the real life cost into perspective.

A household of three, such as a mother with two children, will lose $29 a month — a total of $319 for November 2013 through September 2014…That equals about 16 meals a month for a family of three based on the cost of U.S. Agriculture Department’s “Thrifty Food Plan.”

Of course, the potential for further cuts does not end at the first of November.  The much debated Farm Bill is still being considered (more…)

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Every year, the U.S. Census Bureau issues a report on annual poverty data from the American Community Survey. Last month, the Census Bureau reported the poverty rate for 2012 was 15%, virtually unchanged since 2011. For Oklahoma, the rate was 17.2%, also the same as last year.

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When the current poverty rate is measured against the historically low rate of 11.1% in 1973, the news seems disheartening. Yet, as Sheldon H. Danziger points out in a recent New York Times opinion piece, comparing 2012 to 1973 without further context can give people the wrong idea about the true state of the war on poverty.

One thing to keep in mind is that poverty measures do not capture all the relief provided to low-income families under current safety net policies. Non-cash benefits, (more…)

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Work support programs are designed to sustain low-income earners and encourage work. In this they have been successful, as SNAP alone lifted an estimated 3.9 million Americans out of poverty in 2009.  And according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ blog “public programs lifted 40 million people out of poverty in 2011, including almost 9 million children.”

Most of us know families must fall below certain income limits in order to qualify for government benefits. In many cases, individual states administer federally funded safety net programs and often set certain eligibility requirements for benefits such as SNAP or child care subsidies. For some benefits, the state or federal government also sets asset limits, meaning in some states even a modest savings account can disqualify families from receiving assistance.

Cliff EffectsYet another harsh side effect of eligibility guidelines is called the “Cliff Effect.” It refers to situations where a small increase in income leads to an abrupt end to a critical benefit. Two work support benefits often associated with income limits are child care assistance, which makes daycare affordable for working parents, and food assistance, which often includes work requirements.

The dilemma posed by cliff effects is that it penalizes people who are slowly working their way out of poverty and into higher income brackets. As income increases, (more…)

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There is growing concern about the amount of student loan debt in the U.S, with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) warning that more than $1 trillion is owed on outstanding loans.  The reason behind this record amount of student debt is tied to the rising cost of college and the increase in college enrollment.

While a college degree is still a worthwhile investment, the debt today’s graduates accumulate can impede their financial stability for decades after they leave school.  In fact, it can leave many young people with the impression they can’t afford to take a job in public service, such as teaching, because it doesn’t offer a salary high enough to pay off their loans. This reality drives talent away from public service, and is one of reasons the CFPB 09-26-12-Student-Debt-00-01 and others are trying to raise awareness of loan repayment and forgiveness options (See: Public Service & Student Debt).

According to the CFPB, the cost of attending a public university in the U.S. has increased 42% in the last ten years, and for private universities the cost rose 31% for the same period.

Yet even in the face of rising costs, more people are attending college.  In the last 20 years, college enrollment has risen from 13.8 million to 21 million.  Pew Research now estimates 19%, or one out of five, American households owe outstanding student debt as of 2010.

As worrying as the cost of a college education may be, there is still value in it.  Last year (more…)

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According to a recent study by Demos, three important factors are linked with a poor credit report: unemployment, lack of health coverage and medical debt.  Needless to say, the recent recession created an environment where a good credit report was a likely casualty, as many families struggled with job loss.  Ironically, one of the barriers unemployed job applicants may face as they search for a good job, with a living wage, is the credit report that took such a hit during their period of unemployment.discredited_employmentcreditchecks_Banner

As the Demos report explains, federal law requires employers to have written permission before requesting an applicant’s credit report.  The catch is, employers can refuse to hire employees who refuse to give permission.  And although federal law also requires employers to disclose when credit information is the basis for denying someone a job, the denial of employment for this reason is legal in most cases.

During the Great Recession, many uninsured, unemployed Americans saw debt accumulate due to health issues or other emergencies beyond their control.  This record of unpaid debt now sits on their credit reports and is part of what potential employers may see as they make hiring decisions.  For some quick perspective on the number of people potentially impacted by this issue,  consider that: (more…)

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