Too many Oklahomans live in poverty, but addressing it takes multifaceted approach (Weekly Wonk)

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

Census data show Oklahoma still lags nation in poverty rate: New Census data released Thursday show Oklahoma’s poverty rate remained higher than the national average in 2019 but is slightly decreasing. More than one in seven Oklahomans (15.2 percent, or 583,029 people) were living below the federal poverty line, which is $26,200 for a family of four. Oklahoma’s 2019 poverty rate was lower than 2018’s rate of 15.6 percent but was higher than the national average of 12.3 percent. While this data points to changes between 2018 and 2019, it fails to document our current economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the spring and summer, the national poverty rate has climbed with the Urban Institute estimating that more than 1 in 10 Oklahomans currently live in poverty.  [Josie Phillips / OK Policy]

Policy Matters: Poverty is an issue, now more than ever: There’s really no way to sugarcoat it. Despite our state’s abundance of natural resources and a population with a remarkable work ethic, Oklahoma is among the nation’s poorest states by many metrics. Even with these advantages, there is no denying that a higher percentage of Oklahomans live in poverty than nearly any other state in the nation. The Census Bureau this week is scheduled to release its latest American Community Survey data that looks at the change in poverty rate, median household income, health care coverage, and housing costs from 2018 to 2019. Because of the lag in reporting, this information will not be indicative of our current reality due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [Ahniwake Rose / OK Policy

Education Secretary appointment may set up interesting dynamic (Capitol Update): Gov. Kevin Stitt recently announced the appointment of Ryan Walters, a young former classroom teacher from McAlester, as his new Secretary of Education. Walters previously served as Executive Director for an educational advocacy organization whose legislative agenda included supporting the passage of policies that promote school choice to give students free market choice when selecting their school, to oppose efforts to restrict charter school expansion, and to give public charter schools equal access to similar resources as traditional public schools. His appointment as Secretary of Education to implement the Governor’s education agenda may set up an interesting dynamic going forward. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Weekly What’s That

Federal Poverty Level

The federal poverty level (FPL) is a measure of income issued annually by the Department of Health and Human Services that is used to determine eligibility for various public programs and benefits, including Medicaid, health insurance premium tax credits, the free- and reduced- school lunch program, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and many others.

The federal poverty level, which takes into account family size, is $12,760 for a single individual and $26,200 for a family of four in 2020. There are separate, higher levels for residents of Alaska and Hawaii.

The federal poverty level was first established in 1965 and was set at three times the cost of a basic food plan. The level is adjusted annually for inflation. It is widely accepted that the federal poverty level does not accurately reflect the amount of income needed to meet one’s basic needs.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“Too many Oklahomans still can’t afford to see a doctor or fill a prescription, and Oklahomans deserve better. Implementing Medicaid expansion in 2021 should put a significant dent in these numbers.”

-Carly Putnam, Policy Director for OK Policy, speaking about the number of Oklahomans without health insurance [The Oklahoman]

Editorial of the Week

State has a moral and legal duty to protect inmates from COVID-19, and it’s in our own best interest, too

COVID-19 seems to be spreading rapidly in Oklahoma’s prisons. That’s dangerous for inmates, prison employees and everyone else, too.

A female prisoner at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft and a male prisoner at Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington have died after being treated for COVID-19. The state has been coy about the details of their deaths and has refused to identify them…

At last report, 1,568 inmates had tested positive across the state’s public and private prisons.

Even if you lack empathy for felons, the situation should concern you.

Razor wire and metal bars don’t stop a pandemic.

[Read full Tulsa World editorial]

Numbers of the Day

  • 198,000 – Number of Oklahoma adults who reported that children in their household weren’t eating enough because they couldn’t afford enough food sometime during the past seven days. This represents about 17% of Oklahoma adults who live with children.
  • 15.6% – Percentage of households who were food insecure on average from 2016 to 2018, meaning that at some point during the year, they experienced difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of money or resources. Oklahoma is ranked 47th.
  • 21.6% – Poverty rate of LGBT people collectively, which is much higher than the rate for cisgender straight people of 15.7 percent.
  • 42% – Percent of Black children under 18 in Oklahoma who experience poverty, compared to 15 percent of Non-Hispanic white children.
  • 44% – Percentage of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year who don’t have home broadband services.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading

  • Tracking the COVID-19 Recession’s Effects on Food, Housing, and Employment Hardships [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
  • The human costs of the productivity paradox in the USA [Brookings]
  • Most Americans point to circumstances, not work ethic, for why people are rich or poor [Pew Research]
  • Racial economic inequality amid the COVID-19 crisis [Brookings Institute]
  • The gender poverty gap for unmarried people persists across demographic groups [Brookings]


David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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