Tulsa World, May 14, 2008: Grim outlook

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Things were already pretty tough for poor families in Oklahoma; according to a recent report, they might be on the verge of getting worse.

Poverty rates in Oklahoma continue to rise, and so too do the costs of most necessities, at a time when Oklahoma’s economy is out-performing those in most other states, notes the report from the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

“On the Brink,” one of the first offerings of the new nonprofit think tank, said poverty rose 2 percent in Oklahoma from 2005 to 2006, placing the state poverty rate at 15.4 percent the highest it’s been in a decade.

Little or no income growth, coupled with rising prices for fuel, utilities, food, health care and other necessities, spells more suffering and hardship for low-income families already struggling with such challenges.

The welfare of vulnerable families will become an even greater concern “if and when the national economic slump begins to be more deeply felt in Oklahoma,” the report said.

The authors noted there already has been a 23 percent increase in bankruptcies in the first three months of 2008, and an increase in past-due mortgages of more than 50 percent from the third quarter of 2005 to the same period in 2007.

Of course, this scenario means greater demands on social services and other programs at a time when the state faces an uncertain revenue outlook at best.

The revenue picture might look a bit better if lawmakers hadn’t been overcome by tax-cut fever in recent years, but it’s too late to do anything about that now. Sadly, those who are least able to pay the price for such poor decision-making are the ones who will be forced to.

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