Oklahoma Voice aims to help shape the conversation and hold those in power accountable

August 29, 2023 5:00 am
A woman holds up a cell phone while holding a baby in a sling.

In Oklahoma, infant care can cost more than in-state college tuition, according to a Status of Women report. (Photo by Kohei Hara/Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished unless you have a subscription to Getty.)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Over the past nine years living here, I’ve fallen in love with Oklahoma. I love its diverse geography from the rolling plains to its tree-covered mountains. But even more, I love its diverse people. I love that in the face of overwhelming adversity, Oklahomans are resilient, generous and, overall, optimistic.  

I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t want a better future for their child or grandchild, and who deep in their soul believes in the possibilities. From my perspective as a longtime journalist, that comes down to the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the voices we amplify and the priorities we value.

And it comes down to making sure Oklahomans hear about and know about the decisions that affect them being made every day by those in power. From the halls of the Capitol to the tribal lands and small towns spread across the state, we’re ready to be part of the discussion contributing to our collective future. 

As a state, we face some deep systemic challenges. For instance, I often hear troubling stories about how women and children struggle to thrive due to inequities, lack of resources or other challenges that need legislative intervention.

In 2020, infant child care cost $745 a month, according to a 2022 Status of Women report. A single parent spent as much as 40% of their income on it, while married parents, making two incomes, spent as much as 12%. At the time, infant care cost more than in-state college tuition, the same research found.  

I hear from mothers who can’t find affordable child care and find themselves pushed out of the workforce. In our state, over 3 in 10 mothers of young children are not in the workforce. 

Nearly six years ago, that was almost me, too.

I was three months pregnant with a baby girl. Having just told our employers the good news, my husband and I started looking for day care.

We discovered dozens of parents had already paid to put their names on infant room wait lists — as early as two years before they were even pregnant. Day care operators were candid: My daughter might be 2-years-old before a spot in the infant room would open.

An estimated 55% of Oklahomans live in a child care desert, according to the Center for American Progress. The group defines a child care desert as a region with over 50 children under 5 but no child care providers, or three times as many children as slots. In fact, only 14 states have worse child care access than Oklahoma, according to the group.

My husband and I started discussing which one of us would have to leave our job, and whether Oklahoma was a place where we could thrive while raising a child. 

I’ve wanted to be a journalist since the 11th grade. I didn’t want to have to choose between my career and child. Thanks to family help for several years and one of those spots eventually opening up, I didn’t have to. 

I’m glad to be in a position as the editor of the Oklahoma Voice where I can help scrutinize both systemic problems and solutions, to join the conversation about making things better. 

That’s one reason I decided to leave a reporting job that I enjoyed to help launch the state’s newest nonprofit newsroom, part of a network of journalism outlets across the country focused on state capitals, policies and their impacts. Today, Oklahoma Voice becomes No. 36 in States Newsroom’s national network. 

All of that news comes free to you, and it can all be reprinted for free under a Creative Commons license by other news outlets. I was drawn to States Newsroom’s vision to increase local coverage everywhere, and to provide free, quality daily state government coverage to any Oklahoman. I like that the organization is interested in highlighting issues that affect those typically sidelined from the political process. 

A 2023 Pew Research Center survey found that nationally 60% of government and political reporters are men. Women are more likely to cover beats like “health, education and families and social issues.”

The state Capitol press pool has also traditionally been male, much like its Legislature. At the end of last session, I could count on one hand the number of women covering state politics full time for print or online publications in the Capitol press corp. 

Oklahoma Voice adds three more talented women to that pool.

Statewide, we’re looking at some tough, systemic inequities that desperately need to be tackled, and Oklahoma would benefit from bringing fresh voices — like hardworking mothers from across its 77 counties — into the conversation and workforce.

As of April 2022, Oklahoma women earned 75 cents for every dollar a man earned, and they aren’t projected to achieve pay equity until 2076 unless something changes. The same report found that Oklahoma has a higher percentage of women working in lower-paying jobs like sales, education and food services than other states. 

Single-mother households were four times as likely than single-father households to need food assistance, and more women live in poverty than men. Over 1 in 5 Oklahoma children live in poverty, and 30% of parents lack secure employment, according to the most recent Kids Count report. 

Parents, meanwhile, are alarmed by the state’s educational outcomes.  

That same report ranked Oklahoma 49th in education with 76% of fourth graders not proficient in reading, and 84% not proficient in math. Nearly 2 in 10 high schoolers don’t graduate on time. 

Tackling all of that in a meaningful way takes foresight, focus, patience and long-term investments. We should expect nothing less from our officials and leaders, who should be seeking to represent and support Oklahoma’s most precious resource — its people.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Janelle Stecklein
Janelle Stecklein

Janelle Stecklein is editor of Oklahoma Voice. An award-winning journalist, Stecklein has been covering Oklahoma government and politics since moving to the state in 2014.