New Census data shows Oklahoma made some progress in reducing the percentage of families living in poverty in 2015. In 2014, nearly one out of six Oklahomans (16.6 percent) were making less than the poverty line ($24,000 a year for a family of four) before taxes. In 2015, about 13,000 fewer Oklahomans were living below the poverty line, dropping our state’s poverty rate to 16.1 percent.
The official poverty rate for the United States as a whole fell even more, from 15.5 percent in 2014 to 14.7 percent in 2015. These improvements widened the gap between the percentage of Oklahomans and the percentage of all Americans living in poverty.
The Census also released new Supplemental Poverty Measure data this week. This companion measure of poverty better shows the impact of safety net programs like SNAP (food stamps), state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits, and the Child Tax Credit, which aren’t incorporated into the official poverty rate. The Supplemental Poverty Measure reveals that nationwide these safety net programs cut poverty in half in 2015. Oklahoma showed a 3-year average poverty rate of 13.8 percent under the Supplemental Poverty Measure.
Oklahoma’s relatively high poverty rate shows we need to be enacting proven poverty-fighting policies more than ever. Unfortunately state lawmakers went the opposite direction this year by slashing Oklahoma’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for working families making low wages. One of the best measures we can take to help reduce the damage of poverty is to restore the state EITC next year.
Oklahoma uninsured rate improves but still among highest in country
This week the U.S. Census also released new data on health insurance coverage in Oklahoma and the United States. In 2014, 15.4 percent of Oklahomans were uninsured. In 2015 that number dropped to 13.9 percent — an all-time low for the state. Oklahoma’s uninsured rate improvement matches the nationwide trend due to the Affordable Care Act expanding coverage to millions of Americans. The estimated total number of uninsured Oklahomans has dropped from 666,000 in 2013 to 533,000 in 2015.
Despite this progress, Oklahoma in 2015 had the third highest uninsured rate in the nation, behind only Alaska and Texas. Oklahoma and other states that have so far refused to expand Medicaid are making much less progress in reducing uninsured rates compared to states that accept federal funds to expand coverage. In states that expanded coverage, the uninsured rate fell 44 percent from 2013 to 2015, while in non-coverage expansion states it fell just 27 percent.
These Census numbers bring more proof that the Affordable Care Act is boosting health coverage in Oklahoma. But lawmakers’ refusal to bring home all the benefits of this law means that we still lag behind the nation, and too many Oklahomans are still left uninsured. We are losing out on health benefits, economic boosts, and cost savings that most states have gained by expanding coverage using federal Medicaid dollars.