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Poverty in Oklahoma

Oklahoma is one of the poorest states in the nation. More than half of Oklahoma counties have an average income at or below the federal poverty level. Oklahoma’s poverty rate of 15.7% is well above the national average of 13.2%. To be considered poor by federal standard, a family of four would have to have an income at or below $23,050 in 2012.

Oklahoma Women in Poverty

Statistically Speaking…

  • Oklahoma is the 2nd overall worst state for women.
  • Approximately one in six women is a victim of domestic violence.
  • Oklahoma is ranked number one in the world for the rate it incarcerates women, almost double the national average. Drug offenses are the most prevalent cause for incarceration and two-thirds of incarcerated women are single mothers.
  • Oklahoma has the 8th highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation.
  • Nearly 20% of Oklahoma girls never graduate high school.
  • Fewer than one in seven Oklahoma girls complete four or more years of college.
  • Women in Oklahoma earn only 75 cents for every dollar men earn.
  • Single women head nearly half of all poor families in Oklahoma.
  • The divorce rate for Oklahoma women is the second highest in the nation. According to the Oklahoma marriage initiative, 32% of Oklahoma adults who have ever been married are divorced. The association lists financial troubles as the leading cause for divorce in the state.

Sources: 2010 American Community Survey
The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative
Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women
Women’s Foundation of Oklahoma

Poverty Affects Everyone

Poverty contributes to a host of social ills including high incarceration rates, high teen pregnancy rates, lower education levels, and high divorce rates. Poor people are more susceptible to health problems including diabetes and heart disease. They are more likely to have issues with good nutrition and general wellness.

Overcoming Poverty in our Communities

Providing a Way Out

While we at Martha’s Task hold that job creation and just wages are vital policy directions that must be pursued to lessen poverty in our nation, none of us should delay action as we work for state and national policy to evolve.

Pride, Ownership and Responsibility

Economic Justice for All provides direction for local action:

Self-help efforts among the poor should be fostered by program and policies in both the private and public sectors. We believe that an effective way to attack poverty is through programs that are small in scale, locally based, and oriented toward empowering the poor to become self-sufficient… Efforts that enable the poor to participate in the ownership and control of economic resources are especially important.

Martha’s Task is an example of this type of response to poverty that we encourage other communities to adopt. We help women in poverty by teaching them a skill and giving them the ability to take pride and ownership in their work and their life.

Happy Circumstance and Hard Work

Often times, geography and fare circumstances can dictate the form a poverty based initiative takes. Our founder, Susan Murphy, established an organization based on sewing when a commercial drapery business closed and offered the machines for free. (And Susan is not even a seamstress!) The machines were moved into a church where sewing instruction for women began.

As women progressed in their skills, they began making items that they could sell at a local farmers' market. As the number of women seeking this kind of help grew, the initiative moved into an empty building that is provided free of charge by another local non-profit.

Community Involvement

Our community members continually donate fabric, sewing notions and used sewing machines, providing the raw materials that enable women to use their creative talents and engage in meaningful work. The community benefits by recycling items they no longer need, into the materials that create jobs for others. This type of mutually beneficial outreach is something that all communities could create to help those who face multiple barriers to employment. The forms that this outreach can take are endless, limited only by our imaginations!

Same Goal, Different Styles

Other good examples of initiatives that address poverty through creating new work possibilities are the FareStart Restaurant in Seattle, a culinary training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals; and the Women’s Bean Project, a nonprofit organization that teaches job readiness and life skills for entry-level jobs through employment in the gourmet food production and handmade jewelry manufacturing businesses. All of these projects, like Martha’s Task, began with the recognition that all people desire meaningful activity and self-sufficiency.

Small solutions can solve a big problem.
Distressed woman sits on a mattress in the floor with her daughter. Woman with wrinkled brow sadly looks out a window

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