New Census data shows Oklahoma’s economy is leaving too many behind

New data shows that poverty remained high in Oklahoma last year, highlighting that many people have not yet recovered from the recession and underscoring the need for Oklahoma to do more to help people struggling to afford basics like decent housing, affordable health care, nutritious food, reliable child care and transportation.

Just over 625,000 Oklahomans lived in poverty in 2013, or about one in six residents, according to Census Bureau data released today. That’s less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. Oklahoma’s poverty level declined slightly to 16.8 percent in 2013 from 17.2 percent in 2012, but has increased 0.9 percentage points since 2007. The child poverty rate in 2013 was 23.5, a decrease of 0.3 percentage points since 2012. The rate of families in poverty grew 0.6 percentage points from 2012, to 12.5 percent in 2013.

“Politicians like to talk about our low unemployment, but it’s clear that a huge number of families are working hard but not getting ahead,” said Gene Perry, Policy Director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. “As long as Oklahoma continues to block minimum wage increases, underfund education and refuse billions in federal funds to expand health coverage, it’s not going to get any easier to move up the economic ladder.”

Oklahomans’ median incomes grew slightly to $45,690 in 2013 from $44,956 in 2012, an increase of 1.6 percent, the Census Bureau found. However, they still remain over $1,000 per year below 2007 levels. Income and poverty data showed that the state’s ethnic and racial groups have fared differently in recent years. While white Oklahomans, Latinos and Native Americans all saw incomes rise this year, Black Oklahomans saw incomes drop. Concurrently, the percent of African Americans in poverty in Oklahoma has grown by 2.3 percentage points since 2007 (29.7 percent in 2013, from 27.4 percent in 2007), while poverty levels have dropped for almost every other group. However, median incomes in Latino households have risen over $3,000 since 2007 ($39,003 in 2013, from $35,740 in 2007).

The Census Bureau also released health insurance coverage data for 2013, before a key change in the new health care law expanded coverage for many of those without insurance. The Census found that 17.7 percent of Oklahomans were uninsured in 2013, down from 18.4 percent in 2012. Only five states outranked Oklahoma in increased insurance coverage from 2012 to 2013, but Oklahoma nonetheless ranks 43rd overall for insurance coverage nationwide.

While the increase in health coverage is encouraging, it further highlights how many people are left vulnerable by the state’s refusal to accept billions in federal funds and expand coverage to Oklahomans with incomes below the poverty level. “Access to affordable health insurance means medical emergencies are far less likely to wipe out a family’s financial resources. Accepting the funds would boost local economies, aid struggling rural hospitals, and allow the roughly 150,000 Oklahomans who would gain insurance through expansion the peace of mind they deserve,” said policy analyst Carly Putnam.


Carly Putnam joined OK Policy in 2013. As Policy Director, she supervises policy research and strategy. She previously worked as an OK Policy intern, and she was OK Policy's health care policy analyst through July 2020. She graduated from the University of Tulsa in 2013. As a student, she was a participant in the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute and interned with Planned Parenthood. Carly is a graduate of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits Nonprofit Management Certification; the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council’s Partners in Policymaking; The Mine, a social entrepreneurship fellowship in Tulsa; and Leadership Tulsa Class 62. She currently serves on the boards of Restore Hope Ministries and The Arc of Oklahoma. In her free time, she enjoys reading, cooking, and doing battle with her hundred year-old house.

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