Poverty report shows impact in Cherokee Nation
ADAIR COUNTY – A handful of counties within the Cherokee Nation’s jurisdiction suffer the highest rates of poverty in the state, according to a new report compiled by Stacker, an analysis and media company.
Based on population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau over the past five years, Adair County is the poorest in the state with an estimated 6,400 of its residents, or 29.3%, below the poverty line, the report shows.
Sequoyah County, ranked fifth, was shown to have 23.1% of its residents – 9,482 – below the state poverty level.
“Poverty in Oklahoma’s small towns and rural areas is higher than in its metropolitan areas,” Stacker says. “Contributing factors are low education levels, low-wage jobs, poor health, lack of health insurance and the nation’s highest rate of incarceration.”
Other counties that fall either in full or in part within the CN jurisdictional boundaries also exceeded the 20% poverty rate. They include McIntosh (21.4%), Ottawa (21.4%), Muskogee (21.1%) and Cherokee (20.9%).
Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the tribe is dedicated in its efforts to assist communities like those in Stilwell and rural Adair County.
“It’s important to understand that the Cherokee Nation’s presence in a lot of these areas means the difference between those very challenging statistics and statistics that would be much worse,” he said. “If you take the impact of Cherokee Nation Industries and the jobs created there, if you take the efforts we’ve put forth in health care in that area and other aspects of the community, I think the situation would be much more dire.”
To address the challenge of economic development in rural areas, Hoskin said he’s been in conversations with Cherokee Nation Businesses “about how we can not only be impactful in economic development across the region, but to look at areas like Adair County and some other areas where there’s need for jobs and workforce development.”
“So I think in the coming year, you’re going to see some announcements around that,” he added. “We also have to continue doing what we’re doing. We are continuing to put money into education, where we should put money. We’re continuing to improve health care. So we’re going to keep up, frankly, what I think is good work.”
According to the Stacker report, CN-related counties that fared better, rating underneath a 20% poverty level, include Delaware (19%), Craig (18.5%), Mayes (17.4%), Nowata (16.9%), Tulsa (15.1%), Washington (13.9%), Wagoner (10.6%) and Rogers (9.5%).
Oklahoma itself, with a 15.6% poverty rate, was ranked as the 12th poorest state. Native Americans make up 21.1% of that figure, according to the study.
The official federal poverty level, first used in the 1960s, is based on the cost of a minimal food budget multiplied by three on the assumption that food comprises a third of a household’s expenses. That figure is used as a threshold for determining eligibility for assistance programs from SNAP benefits to Medicaid.
In 2019, the threshold for one person under the age of 65 was an annual income of $13,300. The poverty level for a family of five with three children was an annual income of $30,510.
“Some say 200% of the federal poverty level is a more realistic figure for covering the cost of basic needs in the United States,” the Stacker study says. “None of the measures captures what is known as episodic poverty, which affects workers with temporary jobs …”
The Census Bureau’s annual U.S. income report, released to the public Sept. 15, shows the national poverty rate declined 1.3 percentage points in 2019 while the $68,703 median household income was a 6.8% increase over 2018. The poverty rate was 10.5%, marking the fifth consecutive annual decline, according to the bureau.
“Since 2014, the poverty rate has fallen 4.3 percentage points,” a news release states. “The 2019 poverty rate of 10.5% is the lowest rate observed since estimates were initially published for 1959. The number of people in poverty in 2019 was 34.0 million, 4.2 million fewer people than 2018.”
According to the last census conducted in 2010, 5.2 million people in the United States identified as American Indian and Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with one or more other races, which was an increase of more than 39% over 2000’s census. Out of that total, 2.9 million people identified as American Indian and Alaska Native alone.