Economic Mobility in Oklahoma is Among the Worst in the Nation

  • Joe Wertz

Pew Center on the States

Oklahoma, Louisiana and South Carolina ranked worst on economic mobility, according to Pew's Economic Mobility of the States study.

Oklahoma’s economic ladder reaches below-average heights, its bottom earnings rungs are sticker than others, and workers near the top face greater risks of slipping, a new study shows.

The studyEconomic Mobility of the States — was compiled by a team of researchers at the Pew Center of the States, and focuses on workers’ ability to move up and down the earnings ladder.

Oklahoma fared poorly on all three major measures.

The study compared state residents’ earnings prospects to their national and regional peers.

Economic Mobility of the States: Interactive

On the national level, Oklahoma was below average in absolute mobility and both upward and downward relative mobility. Regionally, the results were mixed.

Absolute mobility measures one’s earnings growth over time; Relative mobility compares one’s earnings to their peers’.

Relative upward mobility is the percent of residents on the bottom half of the earnings ladder who climb up 10 or more percentiles over a 10-year period. Relative downward mobility is the percent of residents on the top half of the ladder who slide down 10 or more percentiles over the same 10-year period.

Confused? Watch the video above for a good illustration of economic mobility and how it’s measured.

Regional Impact

Pew’s study included data from what’s considered a person’s “prime working years”: the 10 years from ages 35-39 and 45-49.

Looking at the map, there are obvious regional trends to economic mobility. The Northeast fares better than the Southwest, which Oklahoma is a part of.

The economic mobility metric provides a deeper look than unemployment and poverty rates and linear changes in income. Economic mobility measures “equality of opportunity,” which project manager Erin Currier says is the foundation of the American Dream.

“It’s a really unifying and nonpartisan topic,” she says. “Neither party owns the American Dream.”

What’s Affecting Oklahoma?

Pew’s Economic Mobility of the States study focuses on measurement and doesn’t address the underlying issues affecting the equality of economic opportunity, says research manager Diana Elliott. But the center’s previous research — much of which is included in Renewing the American Dream: A Road Map to Enhancing Economic Mobility, a policy report published in 2009 — reveals several issues that strongly influence economic mobility.

Education, savings and assets and neighborhood poverty during childhood are among the key drivers, Elliott says.

Readers: Do you notice inequality of economic opportunity? If so, where? And how? We want to hear from you.