By Scott Meacham
Of all the perspectives I gained from Oklahoma’s thought leaders on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Oklahoma, the observations and empathy toward children and families, especially those who are more vulnerable, sticks with me the most.
This pandemic has forced relentless economic pressure on countless Oklahoma families — from furloughs, to jobs that have been eliminated permanently, to the new challenges of work from home and online school.
For people who are already living paycheck to paycheck — 28 percent of the jobs in Oklahoma are low-wage—going even a couple of weeks or a month without pay is catastrophic.
“People are on the brink of losing their homes,” Kim Henry, executive director of Sarkeys Foundation and our state’s former first lady, told me. “Their savings are depleted, and they can’t feed their families.
And then she added this wisdom I won’t soon forget. “You can’t build a healthy economy on a sick population. There has to be a convergence of good health policies with good business practices.”
As for people who still have their jobs — working from business locations or remotely from home, there is a whole new level of issues with schools being virtual, especially for single parents with pre-school or grade-school-aged children. Elementary children cannot be left at home. Childcare during and after school is limited.
“These are some of the hardest choices a working parent faces,” Darryl Schmidt, BancFirst CEO said. “The options that we are used to have simply gone away.”
There are no easy answers, Darryl says, but he has found that seeking solutions with empathy and an allowance for the difference in employee circumstances helps.
“There is a name for it,” Darryl said, “The Oklahoma Standard. It means people genuinely caring for each other, from bombings, to tornados, to pandemics.”
Twenty-five years ago The Oklahoma Standard was born from the response of the community and people across the state to the Oklahoma City bombing. As the health and economic impact of this pandemic drags on, it is vital to be reminded of what Oklahomans can do for other Oklahomans.
Public health and economic opportunity don’t have to be an either or. We have had more than a lifetime’s fill of politics over the last few weeks. With great will power and loyalty to our state, let us set the political debate aside.
Instead, may we ask ourselves as Oklahomans, as individuals, as businesses, as legislators and state agencies, what can we do to help buffer Oklahoma’s working families and those who have been hardest hit by this pandemic.
We owe it to them, to ourselves, and to our state.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at [email protected].