2016 Oklahoma Poverty Profile

Download the 2016 Poverty Profile as a PDF Fact Sheet

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.



Courtney Cullison worked for OK Policy from 2017 to 2020 as a policy analyst focused on issues of economic opportunity and financial security. Before coming to OK Policy, Courtney worked in higher education, holding faculty positions at the University of Texas at Tyler and at Connors State College in eastern Oklahoma. A native Oklahoman, she received an Honors B.A. in Political Science from Oklahoma State University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. with emphasis in congressional politics and public policy from the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, Courtney was a fellow at the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center. As a professor she taught classes in American politics, public policy, and research methods and conducted original research with a focus on the relationship between representatives and the constituents they serve.

One thought on “2016 Oklahoma Poverty Profile

  1. Cuts to law enforcement, increase of drug dependancy, below value pay and benefits compared to other states,increased violence domestically, teen pregnancy, mean spirited and frustrated citizens, horrific animal cruelty just as “pranks”, over crowded animal shelters with no intent to change for the better. Euthanizing animals, even though more costly, is the ONLY attempt at stopping this behavior, NOT NEARLY ENOUGH AFFORDABLE SPAY/NEUTER CLINICS, child abuse, Elder Abuse, outsourced jobs, sacrificing irreplaceable resources for money, lack of pride to keep Oklahoma clean, very dangerous driving habits, ie. Passing on blind hills consistently, tailgating, water sources being fouled by fracking/drilling and being stolen by major oil/gas companies, pipelines that are “remotely monitored” from Houston causing response that is too late, driving too fast to rely on reflexes to stop or avoid accidents, poor food choices exacerbating diabetes in generations of families, the obsession with weapons made for MILITARY USE, not home protection,

    So much has changed from when this was home. Rural Oklahoma has become a sneaky “testing ground” for very destructive corporate behavior.

    This overview (incomplete) comes as a huge and inexpected discovery. Oklahoma leads the Nation in each of these horrible categories with a Governor (Fallen)who carries a 17% approval rating…..the worst in the Nation. Why are citizens accepting this misuse of the state and it’s people. It’s shameful and heartbreaking because it appears to be the actual INTENTION of these “leaders”. They don’t seem to believe the people will even be able to stop this run away train of corruption. This does not resemble the state I grew up in. Here, rurally, there is fear and lawlesness with few answers.

    17%???? That is not OKAY.

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