The Governor's Podium

Tuesday, August 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

By Frank Keating, Governor of Oklahoma
e-mail Frank Keating.

The National Center for Children in Poverty recently reported good news for Oklahoma: the percent of our children who live in poverty has declined dramatically in the past few years.

In 1993, about one Oklahoma child in four lived in a home where income levels were below the poverty level. A great many of those homes were single-parent situations, caused either by out of wedlock birth or divorce.

According to the new report, by 1998 our child poverty rate had declined to 19%. That’s 's still too high, but it is encouraging news.

Why have things improved so much for many Oklahoma families?

In 1995, we passed one of the first welfare reform laws in the nation. It set time limits on welfare and encouraged education and job training for former welfare recipients. Our welfare rolls have declined by more than 70% in the last five years.

The old welfare system perpetuated poverty. It kept far too many families dependent on the government for a monthly check that was well below the poverty level. It did not encourage families to seek a way out.

Under welfare reform, families are supported and encouraged as they work their way out of that trap. There are many Oklahoma households today where a single wage earner -- or even two -- who were formerly dependent on minimal welfare payments are working, learning and thriving. Their children are no longer caught in the poverty trap.

Our welfare system used to be a life sentence for many families. It condemned them to poverty. Now it is a doorway out, an escape hatch to tomorrow.

What's next? Our childhood poverty rate of 19.3% is still too high. The national average is 18.7%, and we'd all like Oklahoma's rate to be zero.

But now we know that the key is not a perpetual handout, but a hand up, coupled with personal initiative and human dignity. That's real progress.