OKLAHOMA still behind nation in wealth

Friday, August 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Despite some improvement, Oklahoma still lags behind the nation when it comes to poverty.

The state reduced poverty and raised incomes slightly during the late 1990s, but Oklahoma continued to trail the nation in both areas, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

``The data is certainly encouraging and evidence that we are on the right track toward economic growth,'' Gov. Frank Keating said. ``But there is much more to be done.''

The data from a 1999 population survey showed Oklahoma lowered its poverty rate from 17.1 percent in 1996 to 16.3 percent in 1997. It lowered again to 16.1 percent in 1998.

But the estimates showed that more than 1-in-5 school-age children and more than 1-in-4 preschoolers in the state live in poverty. Both numbers were more than 20 percent higher than the nation.

The state also lagged behind the nation in income levels.

In 1996, Oklahoma trailed the national median income by $5,000. In 1997, the gap was $7,000, ranking the state 46th in the nation compared with 45th the year before.

In 1998, the state median income of $32,373 was $6,512 less than the national median income, ranking Oklahoma 44th.

``There is no reason for Oklahoma to settle for being ranked 44th in the country for median income,'' Keating said. ``We must remain vigilant in our commitment to make Oklahoma prosperous.''

Jeff Wallace, director of the state data center, said the improvement is related to a better business climate in Oklahoma

The data showed New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate at 7.5 percent and New Mexico rates highest at 19.0 percent, similar to the past several years.

The Census Bureau estimated 34.5 million people lived in poverty in 1998. In Oklahoma, the estimate was 533,108.