“We have a large segment of low-wage workers, and we often forget about that population when we talk about Oklahoma's relative economic strength,” Blatt said. “So many people are working hard but are not earning enough to take care of themselves and their family month to month.”
Women comprise a greater percentage of low-wage workers. The agency reported that 58 percent of Oklahoma residents earning the federal minimum wage or less last year were female.
The report underscores the precarious situation of many families, Blatt said, noting that some people are paid the minimum wage or higher but still are falling short.
“Even though Oklahoma is doing better than most states in terms of low unemployment rates and fairly steady overall personal income growth, there's a large segment of the population that isn't getting ahead, and certainly the minimum-wage workers would be part of that,” Blatt said. “That's why we are continuing to see major demands on our safety net programs.”
The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 an hour since 2009. It was bumped up on July 24, 2007, to $5.85 after being $5.15 for nearly a decade. The wage was increased to $6.55 per hour in 2008.
“We really do need a concerted effort to help people into better-paying jobs through more education, training and workforce development,” Blatt said, “but also I think it makes the case for the minimum wage increase that is being discussed at the national level. It hasn't really kept pace.”