New Census data shows Oklahoma made little progress in reducing the percentage of families living in poverty in 2014. In that year, almost one out of six Oklahomans (16.6 percent) were making less than the poverty line of $24,000 a year for a family of four. Changes in Oklahoma’s poverty rate were statistically insignificant compared to 2013. Poverty rates for the United States as a whole did show a small but significant decrease, dropping from 15.8 percent to 15.5 percent.
Last year was another in which Oklahoma consistently saw lower unemployment rates than the nation as a whole, but still experienced higher poverty rates. It’s clear that Oklahomans aren’t rising out of poverty, not because they aren’t working hard, but because too many jobs don’t pay a living wage.
Oklahoma did make some progress in reducing child poverty, which fell from 23.5 percent in 2013 to 22.1 percent in 2014. Even so, more than 200,000 Oklahoma children continued to live in poverty, about one out of every five kids in the state.
Fortunately, key safety net supports are keeping millions from living in dire circumstances, something not captured in the official poverty measure. A supplemental measure of poverty offered by the Census Bureau shows us that several government programs are making a difference. Nationwide, Unemployment Insurance kept about 800,000 workers from poverty by helping them stay afloat after a layoff; SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) kept 4.7 million Americans out of poverty by helping families pay for groceries, and more than 10 million Americans were kept out of poverty because working-family tax credits like the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit helped them make ends meet.
Other Census data released this week showed Oklahoma’s uninsured rate dropped from 17.7 percent in 2013 to 15.4 percent in 2014, the first year that eligible Oklahomans could receive tax credits for buying insurance on healthcare.gov. However, that still leaves about 580,000 Oklahomans without health insurance.The uninsured rate dropped far more in states that have accepted federal funds to expand health insurance, through Medicaid or another program, to all citizens making less than 138 percent of the poverty line. In those states, the uninsured rate fell from 13.2 percent to 9.8 percent.
Governor Fallin has set a goal to cut Oklahoma’s uninsured rate to 9.5 percent by 2019. Now we can see there’s a proven way to make that happen. We need only to accept the federal funds that could insure more than 100,000 Oklahomans while saving money for the state, easing the strain on uncompensated health care providers, and improving the health of hard-working families.
The complete Census data is available at http://factfinder.census.gov/.