Oklahoma vs. The U.S.A.: How Do We Rank?
That population ranks us 28th in the country and 24th in growth rate. We’ve added 28,575 people since last year and 297,024 since the 2010 census. California is #1 with 38,915, 693 residents, but they’ve lost almost 900,000 since last year, by far the most of any state. Texas has gained the most, having added 470,708 since last year and more than 5,000,000 since 2010. However, Florida boasts the fastest growth in the last twelve months and is a close second to Texas in population growth since 2010.
We’re the 20th largest and the 35th most densely populated state, with an average of 54.7 people per square mile. Oklahoma City with its 631,346 residents and Tulsa with 403,505 both have population densities exceeding 5,000 per square mile. By area, OKC is the ninth largest city in the U.S., with four Alaska towns being the largest.
Our median age is 36.8 years, which makes us the ninth youngest. Utah is the lowest at 31.2 years, followed by the District of Columbia, Alaska and Texas. Maine at 45.1 years has the oldest population, followed by New Hampshire, West Virginia, Vermont and Florida. However, we fare poorly when it comes to life expectancy, checking in at 6th lowest with an average longevity of 75.5 years. At least that’s longer than the five worst, which are Mississippi (50th), West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky and Arkansas. But we’re not even close to the five best, which are Hawaii (81.5 years), followed by Washington, Minnesota, California and Massachusetts.
Poor lifestyle choices are the main reason Oklahomans don’t live as long. Our death rate from heart disease is the nation’s highest. We have the fourth highest rate of obesity, trailing only West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama. A Body Mass Index (BMI) above 25 is considered overweight, while 30 or higher is considered obese. A whopping 39.4% of our population falls in the latter category. D.C. residents come out the lowest at 24.7%, closely followed by Hawaii, Colorado, Massachusetts and California.
We’re the worst state in the country for produce consumption, as only 52.3% of our residents consume fresh fruits and vegetables at least four days a week. Vermont and Montana are the best, with the former topping the list at 67.8%.
We don’t exercise much either. Only 19% of our adults meet minimum exercise guidelines, placing us 40th, Mississippi is the worst at 13.5% while Colorado is best at 32.5%. Only 23% of U.S. residents exercise daily and 82.1 million aged six and above don’t exercise at all.
And 20.1% of Oklahomans still smoke, which is the 9th highest rate. West Virginia is the worst at 26% followed by Kentucky at 24.6%. In contrast, only 9% of Utah residents light up. Nationwide, only 15% smoke regularly, which is down from a nationwide average of 36% in 1977.
Access to quality health care is another longevity indicator. The factors that comprise this ranking are: (1) if you have a regular doctor, (2) if children have established regular ongoing care, (3) if adults have unmet needs for mental health treatment and (4) how many don’t see a doctor due to cost. We’re 40th, while Nevada, Idaho and Arizona are the worst. Those healthy Hawaiians are the best, followed by Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Education is another subject area where Oklahoma doesn’t stack up well. We’re 45th, according to the latest Annie E. Casey Foundation rankings. Their ranking combines such educational indicators as children not in school, children not proficient in reading or math, and high school students not graduating on time. New Jersey is first while New Mexico is last.
Our average ACT score is 18.7, which is less than the national average of 20.6. Our high school graduation rate is 83%, slightly under the U.S. rate of 85%. And 19 of every 20 Oklahoma high school graduates are not prepared to begin college STEM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses. Currently only one in four Oklahomans say our public education system is providing a good investment.
All this despite the fact that state school spending increased more in the past five years than in the previous 25. As of 2022, per pupil funding in Oklahoma public schools was $12,967, with up to 128,000 students attending a school that spends more than $15,000 per student.
However, passage of school choice legislation (HB 1934) in May, 2023 could improve educational outcomes. More Oklahoma families will now have access to additional options, including private school. Plus, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters is aggressively trying to improve our students’ reading and math ability. His efforts, plus increased funding should show positive results in the near future.
Oklahoma fares much better when it comes to the economy. Based on 15 metrics compiled by the 2023 edition of “Rich States, Poor States,” we currently rank 5th in the U.S. in economic outlook. Our top corporate tax rate of 4% is 7th lowest, our property tax burden is 4th best, our debt service as a share of tax revenue is 7th, our top marginal personal income tax rate of 4.75% is 15th lowest, and we’re tied for first with 33 other states in not having an estate or inheritance tax. Along with Florida, Georgia, and Montana, Oklahoma is one of the most entrepreneurial states in the nation. We get high marks for percentage of population that starts a business, does so by choice and not necessity, and maintains it after the first year.
An unemployment rate of 2.8% places us 17th in the nation. Maryland is tops at 1.7% and Nevada is worst at 5.4%. At 86% of the national average, Oklahoma boasts the second lowest cost of living index in the country. Hawaii claimed the top spot as the most expensive state, with a cost of living almost twice the national average. They’re highest in real estate, with a median sales price of $837,334 and in their average rent rate of $2399 per month for a two bedroom apartment. Mississippi has the lowest overall prices, with a 66% cost of living index. Their average home price of $140,818, two bedroom rent rate of $991 and transportation costs are the nation’s best. Oklahoma’s typical home price is $199,559 and our median income is 80% of the national average. Despite recent increases, especially in the OKC and Tulsa areas, our home affordability remains among the nation’s best.
The increasing lack of affordable housing partly explains increasing homelessness throughout the country. Per capita, Washington D.C. has the worst problem, followed by California (by far the most homeless), Vermont, Oregon and Hawaii. With its relatively affordable housing and better than average economy, Oklahoma fares better. We’re #30, while Mississippi(#1), South Carolina, Illinois and Alabama have the lowest rates.
Unfortunately Oklahoma has the 14th highest crime rate in the country, with 458.6 incidents for every 100,000 people. This is largely due to our high rates of property crime, such as theft and burglary, and violent crime such as aggravated assault. D.C. has the most crime,with 998.6 incidents per 100,000 people. Alaska and New Mexico are close behind. Maine, with its small, rural population and close community ties has the most desirable crime rate, with only 108.6 incidents per 100,000 residents. Neighboring New Hampshire and Vermont are second and third.
A high crime rate usually means a high incarceration rate, while a low crime rate generally means the opposite. Oklahoma fits that pattern, with the 5th highest per capita prison population in the country and the highest rate in the U.S. for women. Alaska imprisons the most per capita, followed by Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. States with the lowest prison populations are Vermont (1st), North Dakota, Maine, Wyoming and Rhode Island. Although U.S. incarceration rates are the world’s highest – 25% of the world’s prisoners are in this country – they’re lower than they’ve been in more than 20 years.
Most of these rankings depend on the metrics used by the researchers. If different criteria are used, a state can have much higher ranking in one study than another. Infrastructure is no exception. U.S. News and World Report rates us 22nd best, based on the quality of our roads and bridges, access to high speed internet and use of renewable energy, such as wind power. A 2022 study by SmartAsset also examines those metrics plus water system needs, electricity stability, and lowest commute time. They rate us 46th. Utah, Nebraska, Oregon and Minnesota rank near the top in both studies while West Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi share the bottom.
We like to marry, often at a young age, but we get divorced at an alarming rate. Oklahoma has the 18th highest marriage rate in the country, with Nevada and Hawaii being the top two locations for marriage while Louisiana and Massachusetts are the least popular. On the flip side, we’re second only to Nevada in divorce rate with Wyoming, Alabama and Arkansas close behind. Being fourth in the nation in teenage marriages per capita may partly explain our high divorce number. Plus, we’re ninth highest in percentage of households led by a single mother with children under age 18. Nationally, half of all children live with a single parent.
Oklahomans are generally conservative, but how do we stack up with the other 49 states? In 2021, the American Conservative Union ranked states based on the voting records of its lawmakers. We came in 11th, with Alabama, Tennessee and Indiana being the top three and Massachusetts, Hawaii and Rhode Island ranking as most liberal. A recent Gallup study ranked us 7th most conservative, with 43% of Oklahoma residents identifying as conservative and only 18% as liberal. Another study placed us 3rd, behind Wyoming and West Virginia.
We’ve voted Republican in 15 of the last 16 presidential elections. All five of our U.S. House of Representatives members are Republicans, as are our two U.S. Senators. We have Republicans in all major statewide offices and Republican super-majorities in both bodies of the state legislature.
But are we really that conservative? We passed Medicaid expansion in 2020, have the most liberal medical marijuana laws in the country, have city councils and school boards in both major cities dominated by liberals, and as of this writing, have been unable to lower our 4.75% state income tax rate (nine states have no income tax). Only two of our U.S. house members (Kevin Hern and Josh Brecheen) are true conservatives and our state legislature is dominated by moderate Republicans. In fact, this publication only gave Oklahoma House members a 45% average rating and state senators a 48% rating on adherence to conservative principles.
So, we may not be the healthiest or best educated when compared to our fellow Americans. We’re not always great at marriage or at keeping our hands off other people’s stuff. But we’re fairly well-governed, more people are moving here, finding good jobs, starting businesses, securing reasonable housing and beginning to enjoy greater educational freedom. By electing the most conservative, liberty-minded candidates, we can keep those trends moving in the right direction.
Tim Bakamjian is an independent real estate broker and investor living in Tulsa. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Kenyon College in Ohio and a bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Tulsa. He’s married with one grown child. Political and economic issues have been a life-long interest. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org