Oklahoma has a lot to offer, however, unfortunately, it is also quite an impoverished state. In comparison to other states, Oklahoma is considered undeveloped, but what does that mean and why is Oklahoma an underdeveloped state? 

There are seven main reasons why Oklahoma is undeveloped:

  • Underemployment 
  • Low Wage
  • Inequality
  • Hunger
  • Lack of Health Care
  • Low Educational Attainment
  • Mass Incarceration

Each of these factors influences Oklahoma’s overall development and of course, the residents themselves. In this article, we are going to discuss these seven reasons why Oklahoma is underdeveloped and how they affect Oklahomans.

What Makes a Place Underdeveloped?

Before we dig into the seven reasons why Oklahoma is underdeveloped, we first need to find out exactly what makes a place underdeveloped. 

An underdeveloped country or state is defined as being not economically advanced. For governments and financial statistics, this can mean a low economic yield, as well as a low industrial production and standard of living. 

However, to a regular person living in an underdeveloped place, it usually means they experience a lack of food, no health care, limited job opportunities, disappointing education, and a high incarceration rate. 

In regards to Oklhaoma, unfortunately, many of its residents are experiencing exactly that. The truth is poverty is a vicious cycle, the reasons why poverty continues are the same reasons why it started in the first place. 

7 Reasons Why Oklahoma is Underdeveloped

As you now know, there are essentially seven reasons why Oklahoma is underdeveloped and many of its residents live below the poverty line. 

  • Underemployment 
  • Low Wage
  • Inequality
  • Hunger
  • Lack of Health Care
  • Low Educational Attainment
  • Mass Incarceration

What do each of these factors mean for the state and for Oklahomans? Why are these problems so prevalent? What can be done to fix it? These are some of the questions you may be asking yourself, but don’t worry, we are going to answer each one of them right now. 


As of May 2022, the unemployment rate in Oklahoma is up to 5.2%. Compared to the national average of only 3.6%, this is an alarmingly high number.

Unemployment directly relates to a state’s development as the unemployed lack funds to participate in the local economy. On a more personal level, unemployment can lead to mental health issues, drug and substance abuse, domestic abuse, and hunger. 

Unfortunately, unemployment in Oklahoma is higher in rural areas and among people of color, so although Oklahoma City is experiencing an influx of jobs, the rest of the state is struggling. 

Low Wage

Of those Oklahomans who are employed, many of them are making a yearly wage that puts them close to or below the poverty line. 

Being impoverished leads to the same wellness problems and many people who are working for minimum wage are unable to feed their families, pay rent, or afford medical insurance. 

Nearly one in three jobs in Oklahoma are based on occupations where the average pay is below poverty level, which means even with a job, many families cannot afford life’s necessities, let alone be a successful part of the retail economy. 


When we classify a place as underdeveloped, of course it refers to financial development, however, it also applies to quality of life of the residents. In Oklahoma, women, African Americans, Native Americans, and immigrants are facing some of the most challenging social structures in the country. 

Women are being attacked at such an alarming rate that life expectancy has actually decreased in the last decade. African and Native Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as white residents, as well as being far more likely to end up incarcerated. 


Due to such low incomes, unemployment, incarceration, and a general lack of welfare, many people in Oklahoma are going hungry. 

The struggle to put food in your belly is not only a sign that a state or country is underdeveloped, it also leads the residents to crime, health concerns, and family disputes and violence. 

When someone cannot afford food, let alone healthy food, they can decrease a worker’s ability to perform their jobs and can lead to even more unemployment. 

In Oklahoma, 7.5 percent of households report that they have gone hungry at some point during the year, and this food scarcity can greatly influence a child’s development and anyone’s mental and physical health. 

Lack of Health Care

More than 600,000 residents do not have health insurance in Oklahoma, that’s more than 14% of the population. Compared to the rest of the country which has a 9.2% of uninsured patriots, you can see it is concerning. 

A lack of health care leads to poverty and a lack of economic development because residents need to use their rainy-day funds for expensive medical care instead of injecting it into the economy.

The health problems that come from a lack of care can also lead to domestic problems and unemployment. 

Low Educational Attainment

Oklahoma’s school system ranks 44th out of 50, which means that the system is not providing the education children need for future success. 

In 67 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, more than 75% of adults have not completed two years of education after high school.

This occurs because they are not academically prepared and do not have enough funding to further their education, resulting in more adults with underpaying jobs. 

Mass Incarceration

After being incarcerated, it is incredibly challenging for released prisoners to find employment at all, let alone a high wage position. Oklahoma’s prison system incarcerates more non-violent drug offenders and women than any other state in the country. 

And over the past two decades, the amount of released criminals who have returned to prison has quadrupled due to technicalities instead of committing another crime. 

Once again, this causes economic struggle for thousands of Oklahomans and their families, which directly leads to problems within economic development.

Final Thoughts

While Oklahoma is currently classified as underdeveloped and impoverished, there is hope that the state can make a change. 

With a new Medicaid bill in place to help increase the number of insured residents, more jobs being created in Oklahoma City the the surrounding areas, and a focus on improving education, Oklahoma may be able to improve the lives of the residents.