For The Children Weekly Column

Child Poverty is Growing

September 25, 2023



Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy

Telephone: (405) 833-1117


OKLAHOMA CITY – Two recent studies show Oklahomans are struggling with poverty levels above the national average. A report released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau validated another report released earlier this year, the Kids Count Data Report, issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Oklahoma’s children live at or below the federal poverty level at a rate of more than one-in-five. Let’s look at how debilitating that amount truly is; for 2023, a family of two (single parent and child) is at the poverty level with $19,720 in annual earnings. For a family of four (two parents and two children) the level is $30,000 per year. It is hard enough to survive at that level, much less thrive.

Kids Count data show that the child poverty level increased from 20% in 2019 to 21% in 2021. The same measurements nationwide were at 17% for both years surveyed. In actual numbers, the number of children in poverty in the United States is estimated to be 12,243,000, while the number of Oklahoma children living at or below this level is estimated to be 199,000.

In 2022, the overall national poverty rate was 12.4 percent. This was 4.6 percentage points higher than the 2021 poverty rate of 7.8 percent, and 0.6 percentage points higher than 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic. This was the first significant increase in the poverty rate since 2010.

At every educational level, the poverty rate increased, from those without a high school diploma to those with a college education. The evidence that education is valuable is this fact: In 2022, poverty rates for those with less than a high school diploma (27.9 percent) were approximately five times greater than those with a bachelor’s degree or higher (5.8 percent).

Poverty is a foe which can undermine children’s growth, including children’s health, nutrition, and prospects for success in school and beyond. The negative effects of poverty on kids can echo throughout their lives, as they are more likely to contend with issues such as teen pregnancy and failing to graduate from high school. Children of families in poverty are far more likely to remain impoverished in their adulthood as poverty is all-to-often a self-perpetuating malady.

The website World Population Review ranks Oklahoma as the 11th worst state for high school graduation rates, coming in at 88.6% of students earning a diploma. The CDC has Oklahoma as the fourth worst state for teen pregnancy rates at 24.1 per 1,000 females aged 11-19. This is inextricably tied to poverty.

As our Legislature returns for a special session called by the governor next week, I would encourage them to consider this data and look to ways to improve conditions for Oklahoma families, and especially for children who are enduring poverty.

Workforce development and childcare assistance are often discussed, but as the data shows, these two areas are critical for economic success. In short, lawmakers’ focus should be on those who are struggling with poverty issues if we expect better opportunities for future generations.

Keeping children’s issues like poverty top-of-mind for decision-makers is one of the primary charges of OICA; it is a job we cannot do without support from caring Oklahomans like you. We need your support to continue this mission. Please consider a tax-deductible contribution to OICA by going to our website at