Oklahoma median income up, but still far below national average

Friday, September 26th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Oklahoma was the only state in the nation to see household incomes grow the past two years, but residents still made thousands less than most Americans, Census estimates released Friday show.

Oklahomans' median household incomes rose nearly $1,300 when averaged between 2000 and 2002, according to the Census Bureau's best estimates.

Nationwide, incomes fell by about $700 as the economy continued to struggle after the first recession in a decade.

``Our economy has done fairly well in relation to the national downturn, despite the problems that hit Tulsa,'' said Robert Dauffenbach, associate dean for research at the University of Oklahoma Price College of Business.

Tulsa lost 6,400 jobs between July 2002 and July 2003, compared with a statewide decline of 1,000 jobs, he said.

Energy and national defense have helped sustain Oklahoma's economy as other states faltered, Dauffenbach said. The state benefited from high natural gas prices and increased activity at its Army and Air Force bases and the munitions plant in McAlester.

Oklahoma's median household income was estimated at $36,317 in a two-year average of 2001 and 2002 _ up from an estimate of $35,021 in an average of 2000 and 2001. The two-year averages are used to give statisticians greater accuracy.

The numbers were far below the 2001-2002 average of $42,654 for the nation. And even with the salary increase, Oklahoma saw no improvement in its poverty level, which rates among the nation's highest.

More than 14 percent of the state's residents lived in poverty between 2000 and 2002, the Census Bureau estimated.

But Dauffenbach said Oklahoma's lower cost of living was not taken into account in the numbers. If it were, the state might rank more toward the middle of states when it comes to poverty levels, he said.

The estimates in the income and poverty reports are based on 2001, 2002 and 2003 surveys by the Census Bureau. They are subject to sampling variability and other sources of error.

Dauffenbach is optimistic that Oklahoma can continue to make gains in per capita income.

Oklahomans typically earn about 83 cents for every $1 the average American earns. The Census estimates show an increase to 85 cents.

``I'm optimistic we can do a better job of advertising the state,'' he said. ``Less pay can be an attractor to location in the state and boost the demand for labor.''

That demand, he said, in turn tends to raise salaries.