The Oklahoma economy is slowing, according to sales tax indicators. TV pundits reaffirm: “The national economy is doing great.” But there are two dark facets to this good news. The first is that we’re eventually paying for this opulence on a credit card that will come due in the future. And second, the economic winners have changed.
This successful national economy isn’t reflected in my budget. My stock market earnings have not made it irresistible to leave the money in my 401(k) and defer retirement for a few more years because yields are great. The old investment adage “make money while you sleep” isn’t ringing true for me. My stock market investment yields were much higher when the stock market was smaller. Predictable 401(k) inputs dilute the yield. These days, when I put a pencil to it, I’m better off paying cash at today’s car or house prices due to the difference between loan interest, and investment earnings rewards are smaller. Money "costs" more now, despite cheaper imported trinkets. The winner is the investment industry.
In the past, I voted for policymakers who fueled a hot economy. Now that voters don’t benefit, it is no longer a populist issue. Economic equality is defined as a level playing field where everyone has the same access to the same wealth. We don’t have that. The U.S. is divided by wealth and social class, and that gap is widening. In 1980, the richest 10 percent of the population held just under 35 percent of national income; by 2016, the richest 10 percent owned 47 percent of national income. Yet the poorest 90 percent of Americans are not 12 percent lazier, exert 12 percent less effort, nor merit 12 percent less reward for their actions. The once deeply-held belief that America is a meritocracy where people born into less-monied circumstances are to blame for their own poverty is dispelled by the fact that governmental policies affect outcomes more than industriousness. Ask farmers with China contracts.
Yet sometimes, voters remain irrational. In 2017, 73 percent of health care for elders 65 and older was paid for by Medicare/Social Security. Fifty-three percent of elders 71 and older were Republican, yet they were half as likely to be for Medicare/Social Security than demographically younger and less-needy Democrats. Regardless of party, both demographic groups voted against their own interests. Oklahoma health care providers filed over 22,500 lawsuits against patients last year. I see people every day who vote against their own interests in a painful way, and don’t even realize it.
I’m challenging you to vote your interest. State Question 802 would extend a billion dollars’ worth of Medicare/Medicaid into Oklahoma health systems, enriching at-risk rural hospitals serving remote populations, a fifth of which are teetering on the brink of closing. Sign SQ 802 if you’re registered to vote;178,000 voter signatures are needed to override lawmakers mostly elected by Republicans voting against their own health outcomes.
If you’re making hard choices between school supplies and electricity, budget $5 for the gas to go to your County Election Board. Take your driver’s license. Register. Inquire about the dates of upcoming elections. Calendar the dates. Do your research about whether each state question and each candidate will actually benefit you, based on their plans. Vote every time. Learn the facts and implications.
Tax breaks for the wealthy may seem "trickle down," but is that how you want to run up the bill on your grandkids? Health care for the poor might seem like it would destroy someone’s work ethic, but face it: Sick people can’t work. And it gets personal when your rural hospital closes and you have to drive further after a stroke to reach a doctor.
Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney and artist living at Lake Tenkiller.