Oklahoma Poverty Profile

[Download the 2017 Poverty Profile as a PDF Fact Sheet]

621,076 Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty level in 2017.

That’s 15.8 percent of Oklahoma’s population, or about 1 out of every 6 Oklahomans.

The poverty rate in Oklahoma continues to be above the national average

For more than a decade, Oklahoma’s poverty rate has been higher than the national average, and that didn’t change in 2017.  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 2.4 points above the national average.

What is the Federal Poverty Level?

  • The federal poverty level (FPL) sets the income threshold at which a household is considered to be in poverty, and poverty rates are calculated based on the share of households that fall below that threshold. While the measure has its flaws, federal poverty rates are useful as an estimate of the number of Oklahomans who are struggling to make ends meet. The FPL is also used to determine eligibility for various public programs and benefits like Medicaid and SNAP.
  • The federal poverty level was first established in 1965 at three times the cost of a basic food plan. The FPL is adjusted annually for inflation.
  • 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 Supplemental Poverty Measure usually produces a lower poverty rate for Oklahoma than the federal poverty level.  The Supplemental Poverty Measure 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 10 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.

Oklahoma’s poverty rate is high for a number of reasons, from poor health and high uninsured rates to low levels of educational attainment to high levels of low-wage work and the highest incarceration rate in the US. Unless Oklahoma does the work of tackling the causes of poverty, Oklahoma children and families will continue to face serious barriers to prosperity.

Before next year’s legislative session, OK Policy will release a policy agenda that takes on many of those root causes, and we will continue to work with the advocates and lawmakers who take this problem seriously. You can see charts below or download the complete Poverty Profile as a pdf here.


[Download the 2017 Poverty Profile as a PDF Fact Sheet]


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.

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