Environment, Education, Energy: Policy to People

Mapped: An Overview of Poverty in Oklahoma

Poverty in Oklahoma is at a 10-year high, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released last week.

More than 610,000 Oklahomans lived below the poverty line in 2010. Poverty in Oklahoma reached a high in 2006, dipped in 2007 and 2008, and started climbing again in 2009, the data show.

A family of four is considered poor if the household earned less than $22,500 in 2010. StateImpact Oklahoma will be taking a closer look at poverty throughout the state in the coming weeks and months. We’ll talk to people in communities that are faring well, interview those struggling, and examine how the state budget is affecting local economics.

Source: 2010 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates, U.S Census Bureau | Download Data

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Oklahoma’s poverty level in 2010 — 16.8 percent — is a hair higher than the 16.7 percent peak estimated in 2006. One-tenth of a percentage point seems small, but it represents tens of thousands Oklahomans.

Young Poverty Up

There’s more bad news. Poverty percentages for Oklahomans under 18 are the highest they’ve been in a decade, and the increases are outpacing adult poverty estimates. Poverty percentages for those under 18 increased more than 2 percent from 2009, as did the percentages of those aged 5-17 in families. The number of children under 5 living in poverty increased 3 percent from 2009-2010, the data show.

Oklahoma Poverty: Under 18 (click for interactive)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Oklahoma Poverty: Ages 5-17 in families (click for interactive)

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

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  • You notice Congressman Tom Cole and Senator Tom Cobruns districts ?

    • Babybare11

      Senator Tom Coburn is a Senator. His district is the entire state.

      • Anonymous

        I think Peter means the district where Coburn has residence.

    • Guest

      Notice Dan Borens district

  • Anonymous

    Interesting point, Peter!

    I’ll pull those counties out in a post so people can get a better look!

    • Joey

      As a Senator, Tom Coburn doesn’t have a district. He represents the entire state. Not a fan of his, but a fan of civics.

      • Anonymous

        Of course you’re right, Joey, but he’s certainly from a district.

        • Dancematiki

          Joe, thanks for starting this dialogue. It is important. Another interesting issue is the level of education in a state compared to the poverty rate. I am a community health nurse and educator, retired, but all my working life the state of OKlahoma hovered at about 46 (with 1 being highest education rate) out of 52 in level of poverty and was also low in education. Most studies of poverty show a direct correlation between rate of poverty and education levels. The3 effects then expand to health and employment, both factors in chronic poverty. Yet we rarely address any of this in our public or political life in OK. Nor are our national political figures advocates for you. Just sign up for VoteNotes to see how they vote on bills in Congress.

          • zoeygirl77

            There seems to be real a disconnect between the citizens of Oklahoma, and the Oklahoma legislation. As evidenced by the fact that 70% of the voting public voted against “Sharia Law” and now an Oklahoma Judge over turns /over rules and can just put it on hold, ( to do what, passes it)? The second example to this effect is the pharmacy bill that is taking tens of thousands of dollars out of Oklahoma’s economy on a daily bases and pumping into New York, NH, etc. My question in both of these cases is HOW MUCH DID IT COST? And WHO got PAID? Because the people of Oklahoma are getting screwed!

          • OgleMeThis

            I agree there is a disturbingly large disconnect between legislation and our state reps and what a lot of people actually believe. Poverty, I would imagine, is a problem in a lot of states like Oklahoma. The war on women is one thing, but the ever rising cost of college tuition, the rising gas prices and the income stagnation is another. College students who graduate during a depression, never recover. They will never catch up to those who graduated in prosperous times. We are systematically screwing young people in this state. By not representing them, not aiding them out of poverty, and tolerating skyrocketing college tuition coupled with high teen pregnancy rates.

  • Julie

    Slim opportunities for employment for young people are the major contributor. High utilities in small, city owned electric companies, towns that only have one grocery store (hence higher prices), and limited day care selection are also factors. Have a son in this very situation.

    • Anonymous

      We’d love to talk to you and get your thoughts for an upcoming story, Jule. Please email me! jwertz@stateimpact.org

  • Drmikekear

    With this map in mind, it is interesting that today, Senators Tom Coburn and James Inhofe of Oklahoma both voted to raise the taxes of all working people. AGAIN. (But, hey, at least they made sure that the bankers and billionaires wouldn’t have to suffer along with us working folks.)

    • I thought the country was in crisis and needed revenue?

      • Telekovar

        Maybe they should, oh idk, cut spending substantially. Maybe by $1T each year.

  • Hotpinkpoodle

    This is very interesting… I am originally from Johnston County, which has one of the highest poverty rankings, especially in young people. Now I live in Canadian County, which appears to have the lowest poverty rate in the state. As a teen in Johnston County, I know that I didn’t have many options for employment, as there aren’t many businesses in the County. I lucked out, because my dad owns a business in town. I was not impoverished as a teen, but I know that it was frustrating for many teens who had to drive out of the county to get jobs to help their families financially. I think that Julie has some interesting points. I believe that Johnston County also has a fairly high teen pregnancy rate, and it would be interesting to see the correlation between that rate and poverty.

    • Anonymous

      Those are both great ideas, Hot Pink. When did you move from Johnston County? What field of work do you do now in Canadian County, if you don’t mind me asking?

    • Lil_pnk_bnny

      I live in Johnston County. I have two children that have graduated HS, and two that are still in school. My oldest son has a decent job in one of the quarry’s that surround the area of Mill Creek. It is the only field that hires in the area. He started College but was so far behind in his basic skills that he quickly got frustrated and dropped out. I have a daughter that lives with me and just gave birth to her first child at 18. The pregnancy rate in this area is very high. I have since moved my younger children to a neighboring school district in hopes of bettering their future. Drugs and alcohol abuse are also very high in this area with teens and adults.

  • Lindseycm

    this map would me much better if it also showed where the towns/cities and roads are

    • Anonymous

      I agree, Lindsey. They’re there, they’re just behind the shaded counties. I played with making the counties semi-transparent, but it looked terrible. We’ll be doing more interactive maps on our upcoming poverty series. Hopefully we can get more geographic features and road detail in when we don’t have to show the whole state.

  • Anonymous

    0.1% of 3.75m is 3,750. Not “10′s of thousands”

    • Luisarod3

      I think in the instance that the 0.1% is mentioned, they are referring to the poverty rate of families. I could be wrong, but that would justify them saying “tens of thousands of Oklahomans.” Granted, it’s still just around 12,000 people, given that the numbers are based on families of four.

      • Anonymous

        “Oklahoma’s poverty level in 2010 — 16.8 percent — is a hair higher than the 16.7 percent peak estimated in 2006. One-tenth of a percentage point seems small, but it represents tens of thousands Oklahomans.”

        The rate is based off of individuals in a population. 0.1% of the population is 3,751 (2010 pop: 3,751,351).

        The 22k per household of 4 is simply one of the metrics used.

        It’s a false statement.

      • Anonymous

        According to the Census estimate: 2006 had 16.7% poverty with 576,689 considered poor. 2010 had 16.8% poverty with 613,067 poor. It’s an estimate with population projections, so it’s not numerically exact. We just wanted to illustrate that a 0.1 percent change seems tiny, but could represent 10s of thousands of Oklahomans.

  • Ryan

    Coming from Jefferson County (32.2%), I can agree w/ what Julie said earlier about there simply being no jobs available. In Waurika, we have 2 grocery stores and 2-3 dollar stores. With the older residents looking for the same jobs as our teens, we simply don’t have anywhere to work except out of town, which was a viable choice back before the economy was in such bad shape.

    Also, the State recently passed a bill that makes all state employees get their drugs from a mail order company: MedCo. “So what?” people usually say. Well most small town drugstores depend on those employees for a good portion of their revenue. Post Office workers, teachers, law enforcement, DHS, etc. My point is, a lot of the small town drugstores can’t afford to employ or stay open if it keeps up. Maybe not a huge point in this subject of poverty, but its still a part of it.

    • Anonymous

      Do you still live in Jefferson County, Ryan? What line of work are you in?

    • zoeygirl77

      All that “mail order Pharmcy” revenue is now going to support New York, Thank you Oklahoma Law makers!

  • Dave

    Small towns are dying all across America, not just Oklahoma. Industry has no incentive to build plants in smaller towns as they did in the 40′s and 50′s, and military bases are closing. Those two factors -and farming – are why small towns could exist in the first place. Now all that’s left is agriculture and maybe some raw material production. We are becoming just like China and India, where all the villages are poor and the only jobs outside of agriculture are in the cities. Welcome to the global economy, Oklahoma!

  • Mistyreed M Ed

    I work in community mental health in Oklahoma City. We see this every day. We had to go to a system of walk-in intakes and crisis intervention because of the overwhelming spirit of hopelessness about job loss. Opportunity loss as well. On a related note, Chesapeake Energy is KILLING small business in Oklahoma. That has caused a ripple effect on the tiny start-ups and mom-and-pop shops that were looking promising before CE moved in.

    • Okiedemocrat7

      Are you kidding me? They are one of the few companies in Oklahoma that is actually hiring right now….and not only are they hiring, but they are offering decent wages and substantial benefits packages. Besides, they send landmen, drill workers, and any number of other employees out into the small towns across the state to work. If anything they are ADDING customers to communities that otherwise would not have any.

      • Mistyreed M Ed

        My God, seriously? They killed OKC institutions like Crescent Market, Bohemian Spirit, and Nichols Hills Drugs. They are capitalizing on a nonrenewable resource, and when they do suck us dry they are going to leave rows of homogenized buildings up and down Western, which was formerly known for it’s personality but is beginning to look the Anywhere, USA. The way they have come into our communities as the “savior” has another side, you know. What happens when lay offs start happening here someday? Sure it won’t be soon, but it’s a sandy foundation, not a solid one. Don’t even get me started about fracking.

        • Mistyreed M Ed

          One last thought: those that are living in poverty probably don’t have a shot at Chesapeake because generally they do not have an education. Most of CE’s jobs require at least a bachelor’s. This does nothing to help the poor that I serve daily.

          • Help overcome poverty

            When a company that only has employees of 30 people get replaced by a company that employees thousands of people, is that bad?

          • Dancematiki

            But Missy we are short of jobs for the educated here in OK also.

      • Heaven forbid someone wants to start a local business or… I don’t know… not work for a company responsible for flammable water whose bread-n-butter is but a signature away from being illegalized.

    • Gomner

      I know an accountant at Chesapeake who put herself through college waitressing tables for six years, raising a kid, and was on food stamps part of that time. She pulled herself out and up. So can others. And she has a great job with benefits and a bright future. Not sure why lamenting the decline of small businesses and “mom& pops” – business that typically pay minimum wage (which is a poverty-level wage) and usually provide no health insurance, by a company providing thousands of well-paying jobs with health insurance – is a bad thing for the Oklahoma economy. Not to mention the millions $ in taxes and fees they pay to the city, county and state – far above Crescent Market or Nichols Hills Drugs, etc. pays. You can be sad for the loss emotionally, but from a poverty viewpoint – which is what this article is about – the logic isn’t there. Oh – in 2010, Chesapeake gave more than $25 million to charitable organizations and projects across their operating areas, primarily focusing on community development, education, health and social services. Don’t you HATE it when companies do that sort of thing? As for producing natural gas, you can always burn coal or wood to heat your house and provide energy for electric generation plants – oh wait, that produces carbon emissions, destroys the ozone layer, kills trees…seriously – we have few economic resources to tap in Oklahoma – blaming them for providing opportunities to those who want them, at excellent wages and benefits – far above what sacking groceries would provide – cannot be considered a bad thing.

    • Dancematikii

      What is Chesapeake doing to kill small business? Don’t live in OKC and just not informed.

  • Tulsapainter

    A very Republican state, and look how its working out folks.

    • Skeptic

      Brilliant. It’s obviously not working out for you with a comment as ignorant as that. Any other cause and effect connection you want to make? “Hey, we’re a very publicly educated state – look how that’s working out.” Or, “we’re a very casino-heavy state, look how that’s working out.” Unbelievable.

      • Guest

        Oklahoma Official Voter Registration Statistics on January 15, 2013:
        ======= =======
        Democrat 962,072
        Republican 897,663
        Independent 256,450
        TOTAL 2,116,186

        • Waheeny

          All you’ve done here is shown how well the Republican jerry mandering has worked to elect a Republican House, Senate and Governor.

  • Linda

    In the past 3 years the number of food stamp households in the state has risen over 40%. As of June 2010 there were over 550,000 receiving food stamp benefits in the state. Also during 2010 there were over 1 million people that received some sort of services through OKDHS. That was almost 1 out of every 3 people in the state at the time. Staggering numbers folks and the numbers of folks needing services continues to grow setting record numbers over and over again.

  • Guest

    I do find it interesting that the counties that have the highest poverty rates tend to be areas that are more likely to vote for a Democrat for local government than a Republican. I would be curious to see the local property tax rates compared to poverty rates. Have to ask yourself which came first Democrats or poverty.

    • Muthamedia

      I think the Tulsa painter overlooked this obvious fact. Obama is the Food Stamp President.

  • HW- Creek Co.

    Concerning the poverty rate at ages <18, I wonder if it's related to the number of youth that drop out of high school, move out on their own and have to take minimum wage jobs? And/or live with someone else because they can't earn enough alone to live alone.

    • David

      What about the 46 year olds that have to settle for min wage because that’s all employers want to pay?

  • As a 22 year old residing in Oklahoma county I’ve noticed a large part of young people finding work is a lack of transportation. I was unemployed in cleveland county (where public transportation has very limited range) and had to relocate to City Rescue Mission in Oklahoma city where I still had to walk a half mile to the bus station, and walk over a mile from where the bus stopped just to get to training for the job I got. I then had to hope someone from work was going close enough to the homeless shelter for me to walk back. As a person of able body I’m not complaining, but not everyone is able to do as I have.

    Luckily everything worked out and I am now employed, and living in a converted hotel/apartment with no kitchen and 1 bed which I share with my roommate.

    • Gdenis Perso

      I would not mind to pay more taxes for developping the public transportation of this country. Congratulations for the job and good luck to you.

  • Mcdigi

    I taught 15 yrs in urban inner city of OKC. I am now out of inner city and in a small town not far from OKC. I am shocked at how many kids are in need. There are programs in place for inner city, but nothing is there to catch the working poor. I have duct taped 3 students shoes this yr to keep them on their feet….and I’m the music teacher. Kids are falling through the cracks. Teachers at our school buy shoes for some of their kiddos out of their own pockets. I have taught for 27 yrs in rural and inner city. I have never seen anything like this.

    • ConcernedOklahoman

      You are right, the working poor are falling through the cracks. DHS actually kicks those families out of the system from technicalities such as actually reporting income that changes by month when you can pick up extra jobs. They actually say they cannot work with that in our county and treat you like you are lying when you cannot provide proof of where every dime you reported to them came from. The cash could be hidden but God forbid someone should be honest. The people who hide income or choose to stay on welfare due to how much they give you and not try to make more are allowed to stay on. Choices on what each family spends their weekly paycheck on are tough to make every week. Shoes and haircuts become treats.

  • Brett

    Coming from Hughes county, I can both confirm and deny what Julie and Ryan are saying. On one hand, jobs are limited…on the other hand, it seems like a lot of people aren’t even wanting to work. A casino opened about five years ago in my hometown (Holdenville) and they actually had to delay the grand opening because they couldn’t find people willing and able to work for them. From what I heard people kept failing drug tests.

    With Oklahoma being so high in poverty, unemployment, meth, child pornography, and obesity, I’d be interested to see a poll judging depression in our state. I’d imagine that is pretty rampant too. I was homeschooled, so I didn’t have the same state of mind as others from my town did, but I graduated with 56 students and was one of four who went to a major college.

    The living situation in these small towns is rather bleak a lot of the time. Sad…

    • Brett

      I should say I was homeschooled growing up…I actually went to public school for my four years of high school. That’s where I graduated with 56.

  • angi

    I noticed someone commenting on educational requirements being a limit for those seeking employment. I thought I might have something to add on the flip side of that debate.

    I attended OSU and in my last year found out how truly limiting my degree plan was when I began looking for employment. The same thing happened to my boyfriend, only he found out after graduation, when he couldn’t get a job in his degree field and he was overqualified to get a position most everywhere else he sought employment.

    We both got sucked into what we were told were the latest, greatest degree plans, which to us meant we were sure to get jobs. We were told on a regular basis how we were better off than the other students because we had specialized, only to find out in the end that sometimes specialized is just another way to say limited. Sure we could have good jobs in our respective fields if we wanted to move out of state, but neither of us want to be that far from our families. We are both only children, we have no siblings to check in on our folks, or lend a hand around the house.

    Despite the fact that we couldn’t find jobs in our degree, both of us eventually found employment. Not the ideal positions we had hoped for, but enough for us to get by. We’re broke as can be but we are happy and living where we get to see our loved ones regularly, and you really can’t ask for a lot more than that. Besides, there are some great student loan plans for poor people! ;)

  • Oscar

    One of the few things that we need here to help the poor is transportation. Without transportation, a poor person has very limited resources to get to work, let alone look for work.

  • Sam

    We keep hearing from our illustrious mayor in Oklahoma City that the economy is good. So good that they’ve justified huge rebuilding projects for the downtown area. I’ve read that over half of all school children in the state qualify for free school lunches, that does not sound like prosperity to me. Sure, there’s employment here but employers here like to keep people as close to minimum wage as possible.

  • Tadams74501

    I wonder who decided $22,500 was considered poor? Thats not even $2,000 a month take home pay. Average rent in Pittsburg County is $600 a month. To feed a family of 4 is at least $500 a month. A person would have to make alittle over $12.00 to be off food stamps. I work for a homeless shelter. The biggest issue for our women right now is affordable housing. You cant pay $600 rent on minimum wage.

    • Anonymous

      This uses poverty thresholds set by the U.S. Census Bureau, which was $22,314 for a four-person Oklahoma family in 2010.

      Is the shelter you work at in Pittsburg County? Are these women ending up in your shelter because they could no longer afford rent? Where do most who leave your shelter end up? Do they leave Pittsburg County all together?

  • What about extreme poverty? I would like to see how that has changed with the poverty rate.

    • Anonymous

      Good question, Nathan! We’ll see what we can pull and visualize.

  • bozo

    You would never suspect that the # of Casinos have an impact on when and if the kids get shoes. Folks go there with breakfast money to gamble and come home empty. The folks who can least afford to lose are the one who are losing. Close the casinos and watch the reduction of the hungry and homeless.

    • Guest

      Those casinos are also employing hundreds maybe thousands of Oklahomans.

  • Joycelynlunday

    What a crock what world are these Senators living in!!!!!!!

  • Bottsje

    OK Senators Coburn, R-OK, and Jim Inhofe, R-OK don’ think Oklahomans need jobs. Both of them voted against creating 15,800 jobs in Oklahoma. No wonder our state is suffering, with friends like that in Washington.

  • Muthamedia

    I believe that Sen. Coburn headed an in-depth look at governement spending and came up with duplications of programs and ideas to trim over a trillion from the federal budget. He is one of a few that has common sense in DC. The Repubs voted to extend the Bush tax cuts for 1 year, the democrats got the 2 MONTH extension they wanted. As for our state, it is heartbreaking to know this is happening to families, especially the children; we are all feeling the crunch. Maybe if the state and it’s agencies wouldn’t give services reserved for our state residents to illegal aliens there would be more in the coffers.

  • Muthamedia

    “A very Republican state”? Democrat Pres.,Democrat Senate, Democrat Governor (until last November)

    • Guest

      Southeastern Oklahoma resident here, most Conservatives register as Democrats so they can vote in more primaries. These ‘Democrats’ are the most conservative Democrats you’ll ever meet.

  • Camille Landry

    For those who think that the working poor are just lazy or are making bad choices, you should check out this website: http://playspent.org/ A little ap called SPENT will let you walk in the shoes of a hard-working low-wage earner for a bit. Let’s see how well **you** handle what some people have to deal with for a lifetime.

  • ana

    My poverty is a result of bad choices as a younge woman. What really hurts is how
    Unforgiving society and employers are to those that “paid” their debt yet still get punished daily by being “unemployable” Really?

    • Papachopchop

      I totally relate you this! I too am suffering from the same thing. Luckily, in two more years I drop off the radar of most applications since they ask if you have had any legal trouble in the past X amount of years….

  • dr623

    I have also found some correlations between this map and Casino locations and the poverty levels match where the higher densities of Casinos are located. Also gambling was ‘legalized’ in 2004 and look at the continuous gain of poverty levels within the state. I do not believe that taxes, employment rates alone are the only reason for these levels. People that are at or near the poverty lines are more prone to ‘take a gamble’ to make that big win and lose it all. Since the poverty is increasing that means more are taking this gamble. Indian Gaming is a driving force behind this issue whether we want to believe it or not. If you dont believe me, go to a local casino around the 1st of the month and find out for yourself.

    • joewertz

      Interesting, @ef3247b90dfa51d12f7ee3219f120bbb:disqus: Did you map anything? I’d love to see it!

  • David Martin

    I live in Oklahoma and poverty level in tulsa county. which has 25%of Oklahoma population out of the 1.2million about 45% has poverty level. the other 55% have below poverty level.

  • Pam

    I am an educator working in Pushmataha county with 38% poverty under 18, yet I can not get loan forgiveness for working in a poverished area, because it is not on the “list.” By the way, Oklahoma teachers are now ranked 50th on the nation pay scale. We made it all the way to the bottom! But, we don’t rank on the poverished area scale.

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