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Oklahoma bucks national trend in poverty, health insurance statistics

Poverty rose nationwide last year, the Census Bureau said, but Oklahoma fared better in comparison.
BY PAUL MONIES Modified: September 17, 2010 at 4:36 am •  Published: September 17, 2010

The number of Oklahomans in poverty fell last year, bucking national figures that showed the poverty rate rising sharply amid the recession, the Census Bureau said Thursday.

The state's poverty rate fell to 13.3 percent for a two-year average for 2008 and 2009, the Census Bureau said. That's down from a 14.3 percent average over 2006 and 2007.

Nationally, the number of people at or below the poverty level rose to a record 43.6 million last year. About one in seven Americans, or 14.3 percent, lived in poverty in 2009.

The poverty level varies by age and number of people in a household, but for a family of four, it was $21,954 last year.

In Oklahoma, an estimated 468,000 people lived in poverty in 2009. About 484,000 Oklahomans were at or below the poverty level in 2008.

David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said other indicators such as unemployment benefits, food stamp recipients and demand from faith-based organizations show that many Oklahomans remain in need.

"We don't need the Census report to tell us a large number of Oklahoma families are struggling now," Blatt said.

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma distributed 36.4 million pounds of food last year, an increase of 8 million pounds from the prior year.

Ashley Stokes, advocacy and public policy manager for the food bank, said the organization's partners such as soup kitchens and pantries continue to show high demand. Many people are struggling above the poverty level, Stokes said.

Other trends

The Census Bureau also released estimates on health insurance coverage and income from its Current Population Survey. Oklahoma appeared to buck the downward trend on those measures, too.

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