We work on a lot of issues here at OK Policy: criminal justice, education, economic opportunity, and more. But one of the most important issues that we work on is poverty, and it’s a very challenging issue because poverty is both a cause of other issues and an outcome that results from those other issues. For example, we know that living in poverty limits your educational opportunities. But we also know that educational attainment is a strong predictor of an individual’s likelihood of experiencing poverty. Poverty is cyclical – it’s both a cause and an effect. And that makes it a very difficult social issue to understand.
Fundamentally, poverty is the lack of adequate resources to meet basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter. Put very simply, to be poor means you don’t have enough money. But how much is enough? The Census Bureau has the primary responsibility for setting the poverty thresholds, and they’re lower than most of us think. Last year, a single parent raising two children needed more than $20,231 in pre-tax income to be above the poverty threshold. For two parents with one child, the threshold is $20,212, and for a single adult of working age, it’s $13,064. These thresholds are the basis of our poverty data – if you’re living with income below the threshold, you’re counted as living in poverty.
While poverty is a problem of resources, it’s much bigger than just a lack of resources. Poverty can have serious, long-term consequences. The constant stress that comes with living in scarcity can overload the brain, making every decision more difficult and leading to reduced educational outcomes and chronic health problems. Understanding poverty in our state is a crucial part of tackling so many of Oklahoma’s challenges, and this week we will be sharing data that will further our understanding of this core problem and make us better problem solvers. Here’s what you can expect this week.
On Tuesday, we will examine data on concentrated poverty among Oklahoma’s children. Concentrated poverty describes areas of our state where a large proportion of residents are living in poverty – usually 40 percent or more – so we’re talking about areas where poverty is very common and very severe. These high-poverty areas have high needs because they often lack resources like access to fresh, healthy food and robust public transportation options and opportunities like good-paying jobs and educational opportunities that would allow residents to lift themselves. The data we will explore on Tuesday, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, will tell us more about where these areas are, who is most likely to live there, and what is most needed to address poverty here.
On Wednesday, we’ll share previous work on how poverty causes trauma, with effects that can continue throughout a person’s life. While living in poverty is an Adverse Childhood Experience, small policy interventions with large impacts, like restoring the refundability of Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit, can help alleviate the effects of poverty and put Oklahoma families on a more stable path forward.
On Thursday, we will report on new data from the Census Bureau about poverty across the state last year. Oklahoma’s poverty rate has been above the national rate for over a decade now, and we expect that trend to continue in this new data. In addition to our statewide poverty rate, we will also see data on the people and places most affected by poverty in Oklahoma.
This data offers important insights into the realities of poverty in our state, and trends in data can help us better understand where, and why, poverty exists in Oklahoma. When we know who is experiencing poverty, where they are, and which obstacles and barriers are holding families back, we can better craft our policy solutions to meet the actual needs of Oklahomans struggling with financial insecurity. We hope you’ll follow along with us this week as we learn more about what poverty looks like in Oklahoma and think deeply with us about how to best address this core problem in our state.