Hunger and Poverty on the Rise

Nov 23, 2009

By Dorothy Smith

The increase in hunger and poverty among the nation's families should serve as a wake-up call to the need for prioritizing efforts to reduce poverty.  According to a new report from USDA, the current economic crisis is having a stark impact on one of our most basic needs: food.  In 2008, 17 million or 14.6 percent of U.S. households were unable to adequately feed themselves.  This is an increase of 4 million households (up from 11.1 percent) in 2007 and the highest observed level of food insecurity since data collection began in 1995.  This news follows a Census Bureau report earlier this year that revealed a 2008 national poverty rate of 13.2 percent, the highest level since 1997.

Given the nation's current economic challenges, it is not surprising that an increasing number of families are experiencing hunger.  Food security is defined as access at all times to enough food for an active healthy life without need for assistance.  This standard should be easily attainable in this nation known for its affluence and opportunity.  However, in 2008, the poverty rate rose to 13.2 percent, reaching its highest level since 1997.  The poverty line for a family of four with two children was $21,834.  That forty-two percent of families below 100 percent of the poverty line experienced food insecurity in 2008 is indicative of the deep connection between hunger and poverty.    

Sound strategies are needed to ensure that in this land of plenty, Americans are able to meet their basic needs.  Setting specific goals for reducing poverty and hunger is particularly imperative given the potential long-term impact of the current recession.  The data on food security and poverty were collected in 2008; therefore, the picture for 2009 is likely much worse.  Further, poverty rates are expected to continue to rise, peaking at more than 14 percent by 2012, leaving an additional 8 million people in poverty.  Poverty rates are likely to increase even more for the most disadvantaged groups, potentially reaching nearly 25 percent for children, 31 percent for blacks, and more than 45 percent for single-mother families.  While these numbers eventually will decline, the poverty rate is not likely to fall to even 2007 levels for at least a decade.

The Administration is already taking steps to address childhood hunger:  the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is currently seeking public input on strategies to eliminate childhood hunger by 2015.  But, as hunger is a direct condition of poverty, the Administration must also work to reduce poverty and create more economic opportunity for American families.  On the campaign trail, Barack Obama pledged to set a target to cut poverty in half within a decade.  The Administration should work to make this campaign promise a reality too.

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