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Oklahoma legislators declare war on working poor

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62% of minimum wage workers are women, are disproportionately people of color, and contrary to propaganda, 76% are adults 21 years of age and older.
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OKLAHOMA CITY - It’s official: Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin and Republicans in the Oklahoma Legislature don’t care about the working poor or their children and, in fact, are trying to declare a “state of emergency” in order to assure that those in poverty stay that way.

Senate Bill 1023, written by Tulsa Senator Dan Newberry and co-sponsored by Fairview Rep. Jeff Hickman, who recently replaced T.W. Shannon as Speaker of the House, would make it illegal for any “municipality or other subdivision of this state” to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma, where poverty is at a 10-year high.

The proposed legislation is so important that it included these ominous words:  “It being immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health and safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, by reason whereof this act shall take effect and be in full force from and after its passage and approval.”

What on earth has our elected officials in such a panic that they feel the need to circle the legislative wagons and fend off the hungry masses, lest they storm the Capitol and demand an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work?

It’s simple. On Thursday, an initiative petition to raise Oklahoma City’s minimum wage to a living wage of $10.10, endorsed by the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation, will be filed at City Hall, to begin gathering signatures to put it to a vote of the people. That’s right. The potential “riot in the streets” emergency is nothing more than the people of Oklahoma daring to assert their federal and state constitutional right to petition.

This past Monday, Republicans in the Oklahoma State Legislature begun to fast track the anti-living wage bill, which could effectively make it illegal for the working poor to earn enough money to pay their rent or buy food for their children and, at the same time, effectively take away our constitutional right to petition altogether. Done, and…done.

The honest truth is that there is a crisis in Oklahoma, a very real crisis that leaves mostly women and children hungry and barely surviving from week to week. 62% of minimum wage workers are women, are disproportionately people of color, and contrary to propaganda, 76% are adults 21 years of age and older.

While Fallin argues that it would cost the state jobs, an in-depth study by the Economic Policy Institute concluded that increasing the minimum wage in Oklahoma would add over $355 million a year to our state’s economy and actually increase employment.

Governor Fallin and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett both love to brag about our state and city’s economic prosperity, but the divide between our wealthiest citizens and the working poor is at all-time high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oklahoma has the third-highest rate of people working at or below the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, contributing to one of the highest poverty rates in the nation.

Over the past 45 years, productivity by American workers has more than doubled, yet the earning power of worker’s income has actually dropped. In other words, employers are getting more out their workers and paying them less.

The fact is, our elected officials are so wholly bought and sold that they would blatantly throw both the working poor and our constitutional rights under the bus in one foul swoop. Paying workers a living wage will save hundreds of millions of dollars subsidizing Corporate Welfare Queens like Wal-Mart and McDonalds, will lift thousands of Oklahoma City residents out of poverty, and will increase revenues for businesses. But above all else, it is simply morally and ethically the right thing to do.

Mark Faulk is a lifelong activist, writer, and a filmmaker. He is the author of “The Naked Truth: Investing in the Stock Play of a Lifetime” and has written hundreds of articles about social/political issues. Faulk is currently working on his second documentary, “Voices in a Jailhouse” with his co-producer Brittney Guest, and is a candidate for House District 88 in Oklahoma. 

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