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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.


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This district is all-in on school meals

by | November 20th, 2017 | Posted in Education, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

It’s a tough time to be an educator in Oklahoma. Between low teacher pay, stretched support staff, and the deepest per pupil funding cuts in the country, there’s little wonder morale is low. At the same time, Oklahoma’s already-high poverty rate ticked up this year, and more than one in four Oklahoma kids are at risk of hunger. But a rare bright spot for Oklahoma schools is the opportunity to combat child hunger through their nutrition programs, and one district in southeastern Oklahoma has gone all in.

Jason Lindley is the superintendent of Hartshorne Public Schools, a three-school district a few miles east of McAlester. Lindley found that with a combination of programs, Hartshorne could ensure three meals a day for all students. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows districts like Hartshorne to serve breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge, and moving breakfast into the classroom maximizes participation in the first meal of the day. Serving an afterschool meal — also at no charge — ensures kids have something to eat before they go home, where food might not be available. We talked with Lindley on why Hartshorne chose these programs, how the community responded, and the effects on his district.

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The EITC has been an unfortunate victim of Oklahoma’s budget gridlock

by | November 14th, 2017 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity, Taxes | Comments (0)

In 2016, Oklahoma lawmakers were struggling to pass a state budget amid a massive revenue shortfall. Sound familiar?

One of the measures taken by lawmakers in that year to fill their shortfall was making Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) non-refundable. The EITC is a tax credit designed to incentivize work and keep low-income working families out of poverty. It grows along with wage income up to a maximum level and then phases out gradually, so it never becomes a disincentive to earning more wage income.

Making the EITC non-refundable in 2016 saved about $25 million for the state budget, but only by undercutting a key poverty-fighting tool with a long history of bipartisan support and proven, long-lasting benefits for entire families. Refundability is critical to the success of the EITC because it allows the credit to reward work even if families have small state income tax bills — yet these families are all paying sales taxes, payroll taxes, and, directly or indirectly, property taxes as well.

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‘Neglected Oklahoma’ book release parties / Save the date for budget summit

by | October 20th, 2017 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)

We’re excited to announce the release of a new book from Oklahoma Policy Institute! Neglected Oklahoma: Voices from the Margins is a collection of nineteen essays written for the OK Policy Blog over four years by Oklahoma City writer and social justice advocate Camille Landry. Each tells the story of an individual or family struggling with the kinds of troubles that pile up for those on the margins of our society. The essays are newly annotated by OK Policy staff with facts and data that give context to the personal stories.

Join us for the OKC release party on Nov. 7th, 6:30pm, at Full Circle Bookstore (RSVP here), or the Tulsa release party on Nov. 29th, 6:30pm, at Bound for Glory Books (RSVP here). You will hear remarks from Camille Landry, enjoy snacks, mingle with OK Policy staff, and be able to purchase a signed copy. If you can’t make it to either event, you can also purchase a copy online here.

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Occupational licensing is a growing barrier to Oklahomans who seek a decent job

by | October 9th, 2017 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (1)

Let’s say you want to change careers. Or maybe you’re a recent graduate thinking about what you’d like to do as you enter the workforce. Like an increasing number of American workers, you might find that stiff requirements to get an occupational license stand in the way.

In theory, occupational license requirements come from a desire to protect the public from harm by someone practicing a profession in an incompetent or unsafe manner. Often, that makes sense.  Doctors must have a license to practice medicine, for example.  To get that license they must prove that they have the necessary education — because if they don’t, patients could be seriously harmed.

However, an increasing number of professions now require a license to practice somewhere in America, and not all of this growth is born of strong public health and safety concerns. In 1950, just 5 percent of the American workforce needed a license to do their job – now it’s nearly 30 percent. In Louisiana, for example, you need a license to be a florist. In 21 states, you’ll need a license to be a travel guide.

The growth in occupational licensing is a concern for many individuals and groups on both sides of the partisan aisle. Free market and libertarian groups like the Institute for Justice and Americans for Prosperity, centrist think tanks like the Brookings Institute, and former president Barack Obama have all advocated for reforms in occupational licensing.

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New Census data shows Oklahoma fell further behind the U.S. on poverty and uninsured rate in 2016

by | September 14th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

New Census data shows the percentage of families living in poverty in Oklahoma increased in 2016, even as the national poverty rate declined to its lowest point since 2008. In 2016, almost one out of six Oklahomans (16.3 percent) were making less than the poverty line ($24,230 a year for a family of four) before taxes. About 9,500 more Oklahomans had incomes below the poverty line in 2016 than in 2015.

Oklahoma’s poverty rate increased even as the poverty rate for the United States as a whole fell to 14.0 percent. These national improvements widened the gap between Oklahoma and the U.S. as a whole. Oklahoma’s poverty rate in 2016 was 9th highest out of all 50 states.

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In dispute between Republican leaders over DHS funding, here are the facts

by | July 19th, 2017 | Posted in Budget, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (10)

Rep. Leslie Osborn and House Speaker Charles McCall

It’s been an eventful week for the Oklahoma Legislature, especially considering they are not even in session. The week began with House Speaker Charles McCall and Majority Leader Mike Sanders blasting the Oklahoma Department of Human Services for making cuts to services for seniors, foster families, and in-home support for people with developmental disabilities. Three days later, three Republican legislators, including House Appropriations and Budget Chair Leslie Osborn, spoke out in defense of the agency, laying out why the cuts could not have been avoided given insufficient funding to cope with rising needs. The next day, Speaker McCall removed Osborn from her position as Appropriations and Budget committee chair.

Although the Speaker’s office said Rep. Osborn’s public disagreement was “absolutely not” the reason for her ouster, they gave no other reason for the decision, and the timing makes it hard to believe it was unrelated. While we don’t know what internal politics of the House Republican caucus may have contributed to these events, we can look at the facts of the dispute over the DHS cuts.

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Minimum wage isn’t what it used to be – it’s worse

by | July 13th, 2017 | Posted in Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)

The federal minimum wage was established in 1938 at 25¢ an hour (about $4.26 in today’s dollars). Since then it’s been adjusted 29 times to keep up with inflation and rising living standards. The most recent change was in 2009, when the minimum wage increased to $7.25 an hour — but that hasn’t been enough to maintain the value of the wage.

Adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage is worth about 33 percent less than it was in 1968 (the year of its peak adjusted value). Simply put, the minimum wage has not kept pace with the cost of living in America or what our society views as the basic income that a job should provide.

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Care for seniors, people with disabilities at risk as DHS grapples with budget shortfall

by | June 20th, 2017 | Posted in Healthcare, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (2)

Most Americans (nearly 90 percent of people over at 65) want to stay in their homes as long as possible as they get older. For people with disabilities, staying in one’s home represents decades of hard-fought court battles against forced institutionalization. For both seniors and people with disabilities, in-home care is vastly less expensive than a residential nursing facility, and in-home care usually means better health outcomes. In-home care is a win for all, from individuals needing the care to their families, friends, and communities.

Still, many people cannot afford to be cared for inside their homes without help from public services. For Oklahoma’s low-income seniors and people with disabilities, access to those in-home supports may be financed by Medicaid through the state’s Department of Human Services. But with the state now facing another year of flat budgets amid rising costs, those services are at risk. Despite warnings from DHS director Ed Lake that DHS needed $733 million to maintain services, and that their budget cut scenarios range “from the terrible to the unthinkable,” the Legislature gave DHS just shy of $700 million for SFY 2018. This appropriation of about 5 percent less than the agency needs to stay whole is going to mean more cuts — and in-home care services appear to be on the chopping block.

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Congress is trying to strip away Americans’ protections from predatory lending

Last month, Governor Fallin made the right choice when she vetoed HB 1913 – a bill that would have expanded predatory lending in Oklahoma. In her veto message, Fallin pointed out that Oklahomans frequently take out high-interest loans at a high cost to them and their families. Gov. Fallin wisely chose not to add another predatory product to the market that could trap Oklahoma families in even more debt.

Predatory lending is not just an Oklahoma problem. Only 15 states and the District of Columbia prohibit payday lending with interest rate caps.  Interest rates in the remaining states range from an average of 154 percent in Oregon to an astronomical 677 percent in Ohio. The average rate in Oklahoma on a payday loan is nearly 400 percent. Payday borrowers often end up paying more in interest than what they get through the loan, and repeat borrowing is common.  Payday loans, auto title loans, and small installment loans are a debt trap for working families in America, and most states have not taken action to protect them.

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