When do we address poverty? (Stillwater News Press)

By Stillwater News Press

Progressive think tank, Oklahoma Policy Institute, this week released updated U.S. Census statistics that showed the U.S. as a whole decreased its overall poverty percentage. That’s great, until you see how Oklahoma fared.

With national poverty falling to 14 percent, its lowest since 2008, Oklahoma’s poverty rate actually increased. According to the release, 16.3 percent of Oklahomans – almost one in six people – made less than the poverty line, roughly $24,000 for a family of four before taxes. All in all, about 9,500 Oklahomans fell under the poverty line in 2016 from 2015.

“While the national progress on reducing poverty and increasing health coverage is encouraging, Oklahoma did not join in that progress in 2016,” said Gene Perry, policy director for Oklahoma Policy Institute in the release. “Of course, a major factor in that year was the downturn in the oil and gas industry that put the state economy into a recession. But even in better economic years, more Oklahomans lived in poverty and without health insurance than the national average.”

OPI also reported data on the number of people covered by health insurance. Oklahoma’s uninsured rate “fell” from 13.9 percent to 13.8 percent, a far cry from the national uninsured rate of 8.6 percent, the lowest recorded total on uninsured individuals.

Why does it seem the country on average can have some of the lowest recorded numbers ever, yet Oklahoma continues its steady, spinning-tires-in-the-mud approach to poverty levels in our state.

It is evident there are many people out there who may not be receiving all the help they should be.

Our legislative decision makers could easily see the rest of the country reforming things in the right direction and decide to act upon it. Why should Oklahomans be left dealing with problems many other states have already acted upon?

Granted this isn’t a problem that can be waved away with one special legislative session. But what it could accomplish is laying the pavement for the road Oklahoma needs to travel. It could be the start of something that could go a long way toward curing many of our state’s problems and making lives easier for thousands of Oklahomans.




Margaret (Maggie) den Harder obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Theology from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from the Pacific Northwest area of Washington state, Maggie has called Tulsa home for the past 8 years. Since living in Tulsa, Maggie has worked in the legal field, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector as well as actively volunteering in the community. Maggie also recently spent time at the City of Tulsa as a consultant and wrote the content for Resilient Tulsa, an action-oriented strategy designed to better equity in Tulsa. Through her work, community involvement, and personal experiences, Maggie is interested in the intersection of the law and mental health and addiction treatment issues, preventative and diversion programs, and maternal mental health, particularly post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis. While working at Oklahoma Policy Institute as a research intern, Maggie further developed an interest in family dynamics and stability, economic security-related stress, and intergenerational trauma.

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