624,042 Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty level in 2016.
That’s 16.3 percent of Oklahoma’s population, or about one out of every 6 Oklahomans.
The poverty rate in Oklahoma continues to be above the national average
Since 2008, Oklahoma’s poverty rate has been higher than the national average, and that didn’t change in 2016. In fact, the gap between Oklahoma and the nation widened a bit in the most recent years. In 2013, Oklahoma’s poverty rate was 1 percentage point above the national average. Last year, we were 2.3 points above the national average. In the country as a whole, the poverty rate has been declining since 2012. But in Oklahoma, the poverty rate increased last year.
What is the Federal Poverty Level?
- The federal poverty level (FPL) was first established in 1965 at three times the cost of a basic food plan. The FPL is adjusted annually for inflation.
- While the measure has its flaws, federal poverty rates are useful as an estimate of the number of Oklahomans who are struggling in the private economy. The FPL is also used to determine eligibility for various public programs and benefits like Medicaid and SNAP.
- Federal poverty rates consider only pre-tax income. They do not account for non-cash benefits like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or after-tax income like the Earned Income Tax Credit.
- An alternative measure, the Supplemental Poverty Measure, takes taxes and non-cash government benefits into account when determining income and also considers geographic location when setting the income threshold. These differences mean that the SPM usually produces a lower poverty rate for Oklahoma than the federal poverty level. The SPM also tells that public assistance programs like SNAP (commonly known as food stamps) and unemployment insurance are working to lift families above the poverty line.
Other trends in Oklahoma
- Poverty rates are higher among children than among adults and seniors. More than 1 in 5 Oklahoma children live in a household with income below the poverty line, compared to about 1 in 12 seniors living in poverty.
- 1 in 3 Oklahomans living in poverty are in single-mother households; 1 in 4 are in married couple households.
- The poverty rate is highest among those who did not complete high school and lowest for adults with a college degree.
- Poverty rates are higher in rural and small town Oklahoma than in the major metro areas.
- Though people of color are more likely to experience poverty, the majority of those who are poor in Oklahoma are white.
Poverty persists in Oklahoma for a number of reasons – poor health, low levels of educational attainment, underemployment and the prevalence of low-wage work, and mass incarceration are just a few. Addressing our higher-than-average poverty rate will require us to address all these issues too – certainly not an easy task, but not an impossible one either.