Oklahoma

Policy Matters: Imagining an Oklahoma without poverty

Schilo Kantz

I believe in an Oklahoma where every resident – no matter where they come from or what they look like – can live with dignity without fear of how they would pay their bills or build a roof over their heads. However, far too many Oklahomans (nearly 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 5 children) live in poverty. The differences are even greater when comparing race, gender and disability categories.

For context, it is important to understand where the federal poverty line is drawn. For a family of three in 2022, the poverty line is $23,030 or less, which is about $1,900 per month. For an individual, the poverty line is $13,590, or about $1,130 per month to cover daily expenses.

The effects of poverty are significant, including increased risk of chronic disease, mental illness, higher mortality and reduced life expectancy. In children, who make up the largest age group of people affected by poverty nationwide, we see developmental delays, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and nutritional deficiencies. Even more insidiously, the study shows that people who experience poverty in childhood are more likely to experience poverty as adults, contributing to generational cycles of poverty.

That 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 5 children live in poverty in our communities is a political choice, as are the solutions to address it. Our elected officials can enact policies that reduce poverty and its impacts, while implementing long-term solutions that bring us closer to eradicating poverty altogether.

Policy decisions can help improve the economic prospects for working Oklahomanes, including raising the minimum wage and introducing a state paid family and sick leave program that discourages workers from leaving sick family members unattended to keep their jobs.

Long-term solutions include investing in early childhood development, public education and post-secondary education, including vocational training. Investing in Oklahoma’s infrastructure—not just roads and bridges, but public transportation, walkable communities, and broadband access—will improve economic mobility and bring economic opportunity to more residents.

Poverty is a complex problem, and it is one without a single “silver bullet” solution. The underlying causes are complex and intertwined. Oklahomans who want to see our state do better should reach out to their lawmakers to tell them what issues are most important to them. You can also find communities of like-minded advocates, including volunteers from the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Together Oklahoma advocacy program. Working together amplifies our political voices and can help our state make progress toward poverty eradication.

Shiloh Kantz is executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

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