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New Census data shows Oklahoma fell further behind U.S. on poverty and uninsured rate for 2nd consecutive year

September 13th, 2018

For Immediate Release: September 13, 2018

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma continues to lag behind the nation in helping families get ahead, according to new data from the U.S. Census. In 2017, nearly 1 in 6 Oklahomans (15.8 percent) were living with income below the poverty line ($24,600 for a family of four) before taxes. Though the percentage of Oklahoma families living in poverty is lower than it was last year (16.3 percent), the distance between Oklahoma’s poverty rate and the national rate has widened.

However, new data also shows how important antipoverty programs are in helping low-income families. The Census also released Supplemental Poverty Measure data this week. This measure of poverty tells us how much safety net programs like food and housing assistance, state and federal tax credits like the EITC and Child Tax Credit, and unemployment insurance work to help families with poverty-level earnings move above the poverty line. Under the latest Supplemental Poverty Measure, poverty in Oklahoma was reduced to 11.8 percent.

“We have successful examples of how to fight poverty in this country,” said Courtney Cullison, a policy analyst with Oklahoma Policy Institute. “But in recent years we have mostly seen attacks on these programs instead of efforts to build on their success.”

The Census Bureau also released new data on health insurance coverage this week. In 2017, Oklahoma’s uninsured rate increased to 14.2 percent (up from 13.8 percent in 2016), while the national rate stayed essentially flat. That means that there were 11,559 more Oklahomans without any health insurance coverage in 2017 than in 2016. In total, 545,483 Oklahoma faced significant difficulties just seeing a doctor or filling a prescription last year.

Like the nation as a whole, Oklahoma had made progress on reducing the uninsured rate as coverage expansions under the Affordable Care Act went into effect beginning in 2014. But that progress stalled in 2016, and is now reversing. The increase in Oklahoma’s uninsured rate in 2017 is the first since 2010. Oklahoma now has the second highest uninsured rate in the nation, behind only Texas (where 17.3 percent of people are uninsured).

“The most likely cause of Oklahoma’s poor performance on uninsured rates is the state’s continuing refusal to expand Medicaid, as the uninsured gap between Medicaid expansion states and others widened in 2017,” said Cullison.

Cullison said that especially troubling in this new data is the state of Oklahoma’s children. In 2017, more than 1 in 5 Oklahoma children (21.5 percent) lived in a household with income below the poverty line. That is better than the 22.9 percent of children living in poverty in 2016, but Oklahoma’s child poverty rate is still higher than the national rate of 18.4 percent.

Oklahoma children are also more likely than other children in America to be uninsured. Nationally, only 5 percent of children are without health insurance. But in Oklahoma, 8.1 percent of children are uninsured — an increase from the 7.3 percent of Oklahoma children without insurance in 2016.

“While the progress in reducing poverty nationally and in Oklahoma is promising, the increase in the percentage of individuals without health insurance is very discouraging,” said Cullison. “We can, and must, do a better job of helping struggling Oklahoma families to meet basic needs (like access to health care) and get ahead.”

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