Oklahoma lags behind the nation in our efforts to help families get ahead. New data from the Census Bureau shows that poverty in Oklahoma is still above the national average. 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. And 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 us how important antipoverty programs are in helping low-income families. The Census Bureau also released new 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. The Supplemental Poverty Measure for 2017 tells us that our safety net programs are working to help struggling Oklahomans – our 3-year average Supplemental Poverty Measure of 11.8 percent clearly indicates that when these programs and the essential resources they provide are considered fewer Oklahoma families are living in poverty.
Oklahoma’s uninsured rate increased last year for the first time since 2010
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 there were 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 been making 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 – this increase in our uninsured rate in 2017 is the first increase 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.
Oklahoma’s children are especially vulnerable
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 our 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 our children are uninsured – and that’s 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. 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.