Poverty in Oklahoma 

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The Social Problem and Who Is Affected

Poverty is widespread in the State of Oklahoma. Oklahoma’s poverty rate has continued to increase in the past several years and is above the National average (Cullison). Individuals or families living in poverty are those whose income is below the poverty threshold. Poverty status is determined by an individual or families yearly income compared to a set of dollar values referred to as thresholds. These dollar values vary due to variables such as family size and the age of the individual or head of household (Benson & Bishaw, 2018, p. 2).

Poverty is living without the means necessary to provide oneself or family with basic needs: food, shelter, and clothing. Quality of life and social and cultural needs are not considered when measuring poverty. When addressing poverty, those of middle and high-income classes fail to include human rights. The economic, social, political, and cultural aspects of life are not taken into consideration, therefore undermining the basic human rights of those living in poverty (UNESCO). Poverty continues in Oklahoma and throughout the United States for many reasons.

Poverty is a social problem that undoubtedly affects all Citizens of the United States. The affects of poverty include, but are not limited to, food insecurity, incarceration, homelessness, substance abuse, poor health, and lack of education, unemployment, and mental health issues. Children are also largely affected by poverty in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the total number of children under age 18 living in poverty rose 22% in 2010, making it the highest it has been since 1993 (American Psychological Association, Effects of Poverty).

The State of Oklahoma has the largest percentage of individuals incarcerated in the Country. Oklahoma is known for using more punishment initiatives rather than focusing on rehabilitation services (Hobson, para. 6). Incarceration often leads to homelessness. Studies show that individuals who have recently been released from incarceration are more likely to become homeless, and individuals who have spent several years in the community are still 4 times more likely to find themselves homeless than the general public (Couloute, 2018, Homelessness among recently-released individuals). Individuals who are incarcerated are unable to care for their families, putting them at higher risk of poverty and putting children at risk of entering the foster care system. Oklahoma raised foster care reimbursement rates in 2018 to better the quality of care for these children.

Substance abuse can occur often among people living in poverty due to their environmental and emotional stress, although social status has little to do with the use of substances. Substance abuse is typically caused by both environmental and genetic influences (Economic Status and Abuse, What really causes addiction?). Environmental and genetic factors are also sources for mental and physical wellness. People living in poverty often have difficulty seeking appropriate healthcare. Individuals who are abusing substances are less likely to seek health care due to finances and the fear of being incarcerated.

In recent years Oklahoma Public Schools have undergone multiple financial difficulties. Oklahoma is among the lowest funded states for education in the Country, ranking 49th on general education spending per student (Richey, 2012, Low Educational Attainment). Oklahoma funding is unable to keep up with the rise in students enrolling and student needs. Higher education is also hard to reach for children who grow up in poverty.

Evidence-Based Interventions to Address the Social Problem

There are many interventions being put in place by the State of Oklahoma. Oklahoma programs addressing food insecurity include: Oklahoma Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Oklahoma Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children WIC), National School Breakfast and Lunch Program (NSLP). Programs put in place by Oklahoma to address other areas of poverty include: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Oklahoma Medicaid (Sooner Care), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit (CTC), Oklahoma’s Promise (Benefits.gov).

SNAP is one of the more beneficial services. In 2017 just over 600,000 people living in Oklahoma received SNAP benefits monthly (Admin, 2017). SNAP benefits more than just the individuals or families receiving the EBT income, between 2009 and 2012 over 140,000 Oklahomans were kept out of poverty, including 70,000 children per year (Oklahoma SNAP). SNAP benefits grocers, therefore benefiting employees and the economy as a whole. Evidence suggests that SNAP also benefits the health care crisis (Carlson and Keith-Jennings). SNAP has helped allow lower income people to afford their medications and also to reach out for appropriate healthcare. Food insecurity can cause many concerns, as it is likely to cause more chronic stress for families, SNAP has lessened these insecurities and opened the doors for more opportunities for the families receiving the benefits. Providing nutrition for families has also lessened the amount spent by the government on health care assistance. SNAP is number one, as far as government benefits, in getting children out of poverty (Admin, 2017. Para. 6).

WIC has made significant changes since beginning nearly 45 years ago. WIC provides nutrition and nutrition education to low-income pregnant women, mothers, and infants up to five years of age. WIC has proven to provide longer and safer pregnancies, improved maternal health, improved nutrition, and improved success in school for children (The Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children). WIC, like SNAP, is also proven to lessen the costs of Medicaid due to families receiving appropriate nutrition.

NSLP reaches millions of children nationwide providing meals in public schools, non-profit private schools, and other child care facilities to qualifying families (The National School Lunch Program). Children qualify for NSLP through participation in other Federal Assistance programs, such as SNAP. Oklahoma also offers Special Milk Program for Oklahoma (SMP) and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), as well as multiple other programs providing supplemental meals and snacks for Oklahoma children (Benefits.gov). Just as discussed previously, research shows that by providing nutritious food to children and families in need, food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health is reduced (Benefits of School Lunch).

Oklahoma provides very little basic cash assistance amounts to citizens through programs such as TANF, whereas other states provide additional cash assistance at this distribution varies state to state (Admin, 2017). TANF is not reaching families in need as it used to, in 2016 only 23% of families in the United States received cash assistance, compared to 68% of families in 1996 when TANF first began (Floyd, Pavetti, Cash Assistance for poor families). This study also reports that only 0 to 10% of Oklahoma families living in poverty with children were reached by TANF.

SoonerCare provides physical and mental healthcare to pregnant women and children to age 18. SoonerCare provides many services, such as educating families on the importance of physical and mental health as well as school based and early intervention services to those who are in need. In 2017 the OHCA SEA report, it is an objective to focus on the opioid epidemic by initiating the lock-in program. This program is insured to minimize the misuse of opioids and other controlled medications. In 2014 the Oklahoma Health Care Authority released a study showing that the first generation Health Management Program saved the state $182 million over a five and a half year period (Kilgore and Melendez, 2014, para. 9). The study also showed more satisfaction with the quality of care of Oklahoma’s SoonerCare patients. It is vital that infants, children, and teenagers are receiving appropriate health check-ups to ensure that Oklahoma tax dollars are not being over spent on preventable illnesses. Oklahoma, like many other states, has not yet adopted the proposed Medicaid Expansion. The expansion is backed by studies proving that providing mental healthcare for mothers reduces the rate of depression and therefore provides better developmental opportunities for children.

These interventions have made improvements, although they do appear to have disadvantages. Oklahoma is far behind in budgeting responsibility and fails to provide appropriate welfare to its citizens. While many of these interventions are being used nationwide, and the money comes from the federal government, many states are also working to provide additional services.

One program that has been initiated in Oklahoma by the Southern Rural Development Center is Turning the Tide on Poverty. This program offers housing to residents. Tide currently serves five states and has helped residents in Okfuskee County overcome apathy, find jobs for individuals receiving TANF, and also create a city garden to provide easily accessible food to those in the area.

Social Workers’ Responsibility to Address the Social Problem

Social Workers in the State of Oklahoma have the responsibility of connecting individuals and families with each of these services implemented in the state. Social workers provide resources such as types of services available, qualifications, and how to apply. Furthermore, social workers must also provide local resources to people in need, including non-profit or private organization resources for education, homelessness, health care, dental care, clothing, financial help, etc. There are many programs within the state of Oklahoma that are not provided by the state, but rather by private agencies and foundations. It is each social workers responsibility to allocate these resources. Social workers must also advocate for those experiencing poverty. Social workers build the networks needed to improve the environments of those living in poverty and provide hope.

Social workers have the ability to advocate for new policies, or changes to policies such as qualifications for services. Social workers may also often have the upper hand in creating new initiatives for those living in poverty, such as new shelters, new food programs, or services providing childcare. Social workers have the responsibility of seeing what is causing disadvantages and helping to implement services or techniques to mitigate these disadvantages for the underprivileged.

Who Can Address the Social Problem?

All Citizens of the United States can begin to address Nationwide Poverty by voting. There are many proposed bills that each individual should educate themselves on and vote in each election for the better of their communities, State, and for the United States as a whole. There is not one answer or solution to diminishing poverty, but rather many solutions that can lead to answers and improvement.


Poverty is widespread in the United States, and while the nationwide poverty rates decrease, poverty in Oklahoma continues to rise. Many services have been put into place for those living in poverty, and studies show that some services, such as SNAP and other food programs, have been very beneficial in Oklahoma. Oklahoma continues to fall behind in the welfare of its citizens. Social workers have the responsibility of advocating for those living in poverty and making changes to improve the lives of the disadvantaged. The first step to improving poverty in our neighborhoods is making the decision to Vote!


  1. Admin. (2017, January) 8 facts about human services funding in Oklahoma. Together Oklahoma. Retrieved from https://togetherok.org/8-facts-human-services-funding-oklahoma-betterok-budget-bootcamp/
  2. Benson C. and Bishaw A. (2018, September). Poverty: 2017 and 2017. American Community Survey Briefs. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/acs/acsbr17-02.pdf
  3. Carlson, S and Keith-Jennings, B. (2018, January) SNAP is linked with improved nutritional outcomes and lower health care costs. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Retrieved from https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/snap-is-linked-with-improved-nutritional-outcomes-and-lower-health-care
  4. Chester, A., Schmit, S., Alker, J., and Golden, O. (2016, July) Medicaid expansion promotes children’s development and family success by treating maternal depression.
  5. Couloute, L. (2018, August) Nowhere to go: homelessness among formerly incarcerated people. Prison Policy Initiative. Retrieved from https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/housing.html
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  7. Floyd, I, Pavetti, L, Schott, L. (2017, December) TANF reaching few poor families. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Retrieved from https://www.cbpp.org/research/family-income-support/tanf-reaching-few-poor-families
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Cite this paper

Poverty in Oklahoma . (2021, Oct 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/poverty-in-oklahoma/



Is Oklahoma City poor?
Yes, Oklahoma City is considered poor. Nearly one-quarter of the population lives in poverty, and the median household income is just over $40,000.
Is Oklahoma the poorest state?
No, Oklahoma is not the poorest state.
What is the poverty level in Oklahoma?
The poverty level in Oklahoma is 12.8%. The poverty rate for children under the age of 18 is even higher, at 19.1%.
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