Hunger in America: 2011 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics
World Hunger Education ServiceHunger in the United States
There has been a dramatic increase in hunger in the United States in the last three years, 2008, 2009 and 2010. Statistics are only available for 2008. US statistics do not measure hunger, they measure food insecurity and security (explained below).
The Census Bureau statistics establish two grades of food insecurity.
Very low food security In these food-insecure households, normal eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced at times during the year because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. 6.7 million US households (5.7 percent of all US households) had very low food security at some time during 2008, a 39 percent increase from 2007 (4.1 percent of US households). This was the largest increase ever recorded since nationally representative food security surveys were initiated in 1995, as well as the largest year-to-year percentage increase.
The defining characteristic of very low food security is that, at times during the year, the food intake of household members is reduced and their normal eating patterns are disrupted because the household lacks money and other resources for food. On average, households with very low food security at some time during the year experienced it in 7 or 8 months during the year and in 1 to 7 days in each of those months. Ninety-seven percent of those classified as having low food security reported that an adult had cut the size of meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food and 27 percent reported that an adult did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food (USDA 2010) . (Click here for more information on very low food security.)
Who are the food insecure? Prevalence rates of very low food security were higher than the 5.7-percent national average for:
Low food insecurity 10.4 million US households (8.9 percent of households) had low food security in 2008, a 27 percent increase from 2007. These food-insecure households obtained enough food to avoid substantially disrupting their eating patterns or reducing food intake by using a variety of coping strategies, such as eating less varied diets, participating in Federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries. (See below for more information on food assistance programs.)
Food insecurity Thus, counting those with low and very low food security, in 2008, 17 million households, 14.6 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States. Four million households became food insecure in 2008, the largest increase ever recorded (p. iii, USDA 2008). (To get population figures from family size figures, multiply family size numbers by 2.58, the average family size.)
Food insecure children In 2007, 15.8 percent of households with children were food insecure at some time during the year. In about half of those households, only adults were food insecure, but in 8.3 percent of households with children, one or more of the children were also food insecure at some time during the year. In 0.8 percent of households with children, one or more of the children experienced the most severe food-insecure condition measured by USDA, very low food security, in which meals were irregular and food intake was below levels considered adequate by caregivers (Nord 2009).
How much more spending on food would it take to make food insecure households food secure (a rough estimate)? The median [a type of average] food-secure household spent 28 percent more on food than the median food-insecure household of the same size and household composition (USDA 2008 ).
(Hunger is principally caused by poverty so this section will focus on causes of poverty.)
There are, we believe, three main causes of poverty in the United States: poverty in the world; the operation of the political and economic system in the United States which has tended to keep people from poor families poor, and the culture of inequality and poverty that can negatively influence the behavior of at least some people who are poor.
Poverty in the world There are a lot of poor people in the world. An estimated 2 billion people are poor, and the same amount hungry (World Hunger Facts) They are much, much, poorer than people in the United States. As can be imagined, people do not want to be hungry and desperately poor. In the world economic system there are two main ways in which relatively poor people have their income increased: through trade, and through immigration. Trade, we believe, is the most important.
The operation of the US economic and political system The operation of the US economic and political system has led to certain people/groups being relatively disenfranchised.
The normal operation of the economic system in the United States will create a significant amount of poverty.
The operation of the US political system, which should address the major problems of its citizens, is to a great extent not focused on fundamental concerns of poor people, but on other concerns.
The culture of inequality and poverty
There are various aspects to the culture of poverty
Hunger Fifty-five percent of food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs (USDA 2008, p. iv). They were the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the new name for the food stamp program (Wikipedia 2010), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) (Wikipedia 2010), and the National School Lunch Program (Wikipedia 2010). In addition there is a significant private effort to feed hungry people through food banks and allied agencies.
SNAP/Food stamps The Food Stamp Program, the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, helps roughly 40 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet. More than 75 percent of all food stamp participants are in families with children; nearly one-third of participants are elderly people or people with disabilities. Unlike most means-tested benefit programs, which are restricted to particular categories of low-income individuals, the Food Stamp Program is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes. Under federal rules, to qualify for food stamps, a household must meet three criteria (some states have raised these limits):
WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children) WIC provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, and referrals to health and other social services to low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, and infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk. WIC participants receive checks or vouchers to purchase nutritious foods each month, including infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish. Other options such as fruits and vegetables, baby foods, and whole wheat bread were recently added. Participants family income must fall at or below 185 percent of the U.S. Poverty Income Guidelines (in 2010, $40,793 for a family of four). Eligibility is also granted to participants in other benefit programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Children are the largest category of WIC participants. Of the 8.7 million people who received WIC benefits each month in FY 2008, approximately 4.3 million were children, 2.2 million were infants, and 2.2 million were women. The cost of the program is $7.252 billion for WIC in FY2010. WIC is not an entitlement program: Congress does not set aside funds to allow every eligible individual to participate in the program. Instead, WIC is a Federal grant program for which Congress authorizes a specific amount of funding each year for program operations.
National School Lunch Program The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children from low income families, reaching 30.5 million children in 2008. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. (For the period July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, 130 percent of the poverty level is $28,665 for a family of four; 185 percent is $40,793.) Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent by the program. Program cost was $9.3 billion in 2008. (USDA School Lunch Program)
Food Banks Food banks established in local communities obtain food principally from growers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers who in the normal course of business have excess food that they cannot sell. Other sources of food include the general public in the form of food drives and government programs that buy and distribute excess farm products, mostly to help support higher commodity prices (See USDA TEFAP). Food banks then distribute food to a large number of non-profit community or government agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. (Wikipedia Food Banks)
Perhaps the three principal programs that provide income and other assistance for poor people are the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. Other important programs, not discussed here, include Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and Social Security and Medicare. (A recent study [CBPP 2010] estimates that 20 million people:13 million over 65, 1 million children and 6 million disabled or widowed people under 65 were lifted out of poverty by social security benefits.)
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