All children deserve to live in communities where they can learn, play and grow. Children thrive when they grow up in neighborhoods with high-quality schools, abundant job opportunities, reliable transportation and safe places for recreation. A new KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot shows that many children in Oklahoma live in high-poverty communities that often lack these vital necessities. In Oklahoma, Black and Latino children are more than four times as likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty (census tracts where 30 percent or more of the population lives in poverty). These disparities have persisted throughout a long period of economic growth that should have benefited more communities. The snapshot shines a light on barriers to success that families in low-income areas continue to face.
More than 1 in 10 Oklahoma children live in concentrated poverty— neighborhoods where 30 percent or more of the population lives below the federal poverty line. Since the Great Recession, the share of Oklahoma children living in concentrated poverty has fallen by one percentage point, but the number remains far too high. The likelihood of living in a high-poverty neighborhood is substantially greater for children of color.
African-American children in Oklahoma are nearly six times more likely to live in concentrated poverty than white children, and Latino children are more than four times as likely. While disparities for Black and Latino children are similar to national trends, American Indian children in Oklahoma fare better than the national average. American Indian kids in Oklahoma are two times more likely to live in concentrated poverty than white kids, compared to a national average of seven times as likely.
These disparities are the legacies of racial and ethnic oppression, as well as the result of present-day laws and practices. Underfunded schools, redlining and other discriminatory real estate practices, and lack of access to jobs have limited opportunities for Black, Latino, and Native American families in Oklahoma.
Children in concentrated poverty frequently lack access to healthy food, adequate medical care and high-quality schools. Growing up in a community of concentrated poverty is one of the greatest risks to child development and undermines child well-being. Kids in high-poverty neighborhoods often face greater exposure to environmental hazards, such as poor air quality, and toxins such as lead. Financial hardships and fear of violence can cause chronic stress linked to diabetes, heart disease, and depression.
The “Children Living in Concentrated Poverty, Low-Opportunity Neighborhoods” from the Annie E. Casey Foundation underscores the importance of adequately resourced communities to children’s success. We can work to undo the legacy of racial and ethnic oppression through effective policy to ensure families have access to affordable housing, great schools and quality health care. Policies at the state level that can help transform struggling neighborhoods into thriving communities include:
- Restoring refundability of Oklahoma’s earned income tax credit (EITC) for working families;
- Expanding Medicaid to low-income adults;
- Lowering barriers to employment for justice-involved Oklahomans;
- Increasing state funding for public education to ensure high-quality schools; and
- Continuing criminal justice reform to break the cycle of incarceration, court debt, and rearrest.
This snapshot is a reminder that together with communities, policymakers have the tools to help fix these trends. While certain policies have limited opportunities for children of color, kids do not have to face these barriers today. When every community has access to opportunities, all Oklahomans are better off.