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Editor's letter 11/6/19

According to statistics from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the richest 400 people in the United States are sitting on more wealth than the bottom 150 million combined. For those on the losing end of this scheme, it gets even grimmer: As of this year, there is no state in the country in which a full-time minimum wage worker can afford to rent a two-bedroom home.

That’s according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which calculated the hourly earnings one would need to live in such luxury. In Oklahoma, that number is $15.54—which, if you’re counting along at home, is more than eight dollars above the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

This insufficient and insulting wage hasn’t been raised in more than a decade. What’s worse, those dollars—all seven of them—are actually worth less than they were 50 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage is worth roughly 33 percent of what it was in 1968. 

This issue of The Tulsa Voice is about work and workers. You’ll meet three Tulsa teens who are choosing trade school over college, forgoing the debt trap of modern college financing and learning valuable career skills at the Tulsa Tech automotive program. Then we take a trip into Woody Guthrie’s working-class archive, where the populist Okie folk singer’s legacy of pushing against the dehumanizing forces of capitalism lives on scraps of notebook paper in a climate-controlled vault.  

Next, we’ll introduce you to four undocumented workers fighting for dignity and recognition as they clean Tulsa’s office spaces from top to bottom, building a better future for their kids and making working life possible for the rest of us. We’ve also got stories about sex workers, arts educators and unionizing journalists—plus analysis from the Oklahoma Policy Institue on how our economic recovery is leaving too many people behind.     

We also take a look at the struggles of the working poor in American history. You’ll find writing on the new Dorothea Lange exhibit at Gilcrease Museum, rendering the plight of migrant Okies during the Great Depression in vivid detail. Then follow along to the slums of a former coal community in North Tulsa, decimated and abandoned by extraction industry vampires, where in 1953 a young Cherokee man named Buster Youngewolfe was accused of a murder he didn’t commit. 

I hope this collection of stories draws the intolerable inequality of American life into sharp relief. I also hope it demonstrates our strength in numbers. Those whose obscene wealth is generated by the labor of the working class depend on division and competition among the 99 percent. A better world is possible, but we can only get there by recognizing and flexing our collective power.  

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