Oklahoma Employment at 45%: What’s the rest of the story?

In Oklahoma we are told unemployment is at 4.5% which if true makes it about the lowest in the nation. And yet more and more people are seeking assistance from food banks. Six years ago the Regional Food Bank was giving out 30 millions lbs. a year. This year they are on track to give out 50 millions lbs. of food so obviously the need is growing. Why is that in a state that is the lowest in unemployment?

The answer lies in what workers are paid. Since the passage of State Question 695 (the Right to Work for Less), companies have not flocked to Oklahoma. Why not? Because our worker skill level has become suspect as to its ability to produce highly trained workers that most companies need and expect the local work force to have. Despite what you hear from some quarters a skilled work force makes a big difference when a company looks at relocating and whether or not they will admit it they know that where Unions flourish workers tend to be more well-trained because Unions make sure their members have the necessary skills needed before they go into the workforce proper.

The addition of Right to Work for less didn’t become the all inclusive good deal that its proponents touted it to be. In fact, it has had the opposite effect. What it has done is attract companies (albeit few in number) that don’t want skilled workers and who pay minimum wage or in some cases not even that. That leaves our state with a work force that lacks the necessary skills to command wages that would allow them a living wage and while we have low unemployment we have workers working at 2 or 3 jobs and still finding they can’t make ends meet and being forced to seek assistance in order to feed their families.

The evidence of that is in the fact that the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma despite its efforts is down more than 3 millions lbs. of food this year and leaves the food pantries it serves in desperate need of assistance to keep up with the growing demand from a workforce that while highly employed don’t make enough money to adequately ensure that their families can have enough to eat on a continuing and regular basis.

Our Letter Carriers Food Drive just completed will help alleviate that situation in the short term but it won’t solve the problem over the long term. What will? The answer to that is raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma. But of course those in charge of our state government are in the pockets of the Resturant Association and companies like Wal Mart who don’t want the minimum wage raised even though all the evidence proves that raising the minimum wage just to the amount proposed by President Obama would actually help Wal Mart’s bottom line and end their workers need for public assistance and their need to rely on food banks to supplement their food supply.

All across the nation states andcities are raising the minimum wage because they know that it will stimulate the economy. That has always been the effect of raising the minimum wage and when you stimulate the economy the corporate bottom line improves because when you put more money in the pockets of low wage workers they spend it and usually with the company that employs them. It’s a win, win situation that the corporate world blinded by their greed for profits are too blind to see.

But though the powers that are in Oklahoma passed a law to prevent us from bringing the issue of raising the minimum wage to the voters of Oklahoma City it is an issue that isn’t going away and it will be interesting to see how those same politicians who are up for re-election this fall deal with explaining why they are against raising the minimum wage in Oklahoma when the citizens of Oklahoma believe by an overwhelming majority of nearly 70% that it is an issue whose time has come.

Bob Bearden


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