Census shows poverty level stable in Oklahoma
BY GINNIE GRAHAM and CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writers
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Median household income and the poverty rate in Oklahoma and Tulsa County remained basically unchanged in 2011 compared to the prior year, according to new census data.
The data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey also shows state unemployment declined from 2010 to 2011, while income inequality increased during the same period in Oklahoma. The American Community Survey is an ongoing poll conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“The fact that poverty basically stayed the same even though the overall economy is improving shows that we are looking at a very uneven recovery,” said Gene Perry, policy analyst for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based think tank.
“What that shows is we are seeing a good economy for some, but there are a whole lot of other people who are being left out,” Perry said.
While overall poverty numbers were stable in the state, improvements were noted in some areas from 2010 to 2011.
The poverty rate for married couples with related children under 18 in Tulsa County declined from 6 percent in 2010 to 4.3 percent in 2011, according to the census data.
The state poverty rate among households headed by females with children under 18 declined from 45.5 percent in 2010 to 43.9 percent in 2011.
Julie Alvarez, 40, gives Goodwill of Tulsa credit for helping her dig out of poverty over the past two years.
Alvarez arrived in Tulsa from Texas in March 2010 with a beat-up 1994 Ford Escort and a 2-month-old baby. She got by on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and food stamps.
Through the federal welfare program, Alvarez discovered classes at Tulsa Goodwill ranging from interviewing to computer skills. Goodwill provided her call center training and lessons in landing a job through mock interviews.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here now,” she said of Goodwill.
Alvarez said all her previous jobs were in retail based on connections through friends. She said Goodwill strengthened her resume, including adding her bilingual skills as an asset.
“I never would have known to put that on there,” she said. “I didn’t want employers thinking that I don’t speak English.”
Within five weeks of entering the Goodwill classes, Alvarez was hired by Tulsa Transit in its call center, which answers questions from patrons and makes reservations for the Lift service.
“I love my job, and I love interacting with people,” Alvarez said. “I see myself being there for awhile. But I also see myself going back to school into the medical field. That will be the next step.”
Alvarez is off all public assistance except for a child-care subsidy, which offers sliding scale copayments to help low-wage working parents continue employment.
“It feels good to be standing on your feet and people want to do that,” Alvarez said. “Sometimes, we have to have some assistance to back there.”
Oklahoma bucks national trendNationwide, 15.9 percent of the U.S. population had income below the poverty level in 2011, an increase from 15.3 percent in 2010.
The number of people in poverty increased from 46.2 million to 48.5 million during the same period. This was the fourth consecutive increase in the national poverty rate.
The percentage of Oklahomans who reported living in poverty in the past 12 months rose from 16.9 percent in 2010 to 17.2 percent in 2011.
However, for statistical purposes, the Census Bureau considers Oklahoma as one of 27 states where there was no change in either the number of people in poverty or the poverty rate. That is because when factoring in the margin of error, the difference is not considered statistically significant.
Despite the rate remaining stable, Oklahoma’s poverty ranking improved compared to other states, declining from No. 14 in 2010 to No. 16 in 2011. Mississippi ranked No. 1 with 22.6 percent of the population below the poverty threshold.
New Hampshire had the fewest residents below the poverty level at 8.8 percent.
Among other economic measures, unemployment among Oklahomans ages 16 and older declined from 8.2 percent in 2010 to 7.5 percent in 2011. However that level is still higher than the 6.8 percent rate in 2009 and 4.6 percent rate in 2008.
Household median income in Oklahoma remained essentially flat at $43,225 compared to $43,239 in 2010.
Income inequality, as measured by the Census Bureau, increased in the state.
The percentage of Oklahoma households making more than $100,000 increased from 14.1 percent in 2010 to 14.5 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, the percentage of residents making less than $15,000 annually increased from 15.2 percent in 2010 to 15.8 percent.
The census data included statistics for cities and counties with populations greater than 65,000 people.
On the local level, an estimated 91,019 Tulsa County residents were classified as income poor, with the percentage of the population living below the poverty level declining from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 15.1 percent in 2011.
In Broken Arrow, the percentage of individuals living in poverty has increased from 5.3 percent in 2009 to 8.7 percent in 2011.
Read more in Friday's Tulsa World.
Julie Olivares, call center representative at the Tulsa Transit Memorial Midtown Station, said she is happy about her job. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World