“I think about poverty a lot,” said Potts, who is president of the Black Student Association at OSU-OKC. “I know that children are what they learn. I feel like everybody should be able to get an education and go to school and live right.”
Potts said the drive to avoid dependency was instilled in her by her late grandmother, Willie Mae Potts, a strong-willed woman who made Potts feel like she had a special mission. “I was going to be the one who’s supposed to keep the family together, to try to push people to go to school.”
Other family members have chosen a different path, she said.
“My family is pretty strong. But since it’s offered to them, that’s how they get by,” she said. “It’s like a day-to-day thing. If they don’t have their food stamps, if their Social Security check don’t come, they go crazy…
“I wonder if my grandmother was still alive, would we still be like this?”
According to the Census Bureau, 637,429 Oklahomans fell below the poverty level in 2012 — $11,170 for a single person, $15,130 for two people, $23,050 for a family of four. The figures are based on federal estimates of the amount of cash income it takes a family to cover basic expenses such as food, housing, utilities and clothes.
The big decline in poverty among the elderly is perhaps the most striking accomplishment of the 50-year period. Census Bureau analysts say it is a nationwide phenomenon, and reflects the expansion of Social Security benefits to include many people who weren’t covered when the “War on Poverty” began.
Besides age, several other key factors jump out of the welter of government statistics for 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.
· Work status: Most poor Oklahomans are unemployed or underemployed. Excluding children, 17 percent did not work during the previous 12 months, while 32 percent worked part-time or part of the year. Only 11 percent had full-time, year-round jobs.