When the sun goes down tonight, more than 50 million Americans, including 17 million children, will have felt the gnawing pangs of hunger in the past week—hunger which stemmed from the fact that they were unable to acquire enough food. There are two groups of people who are significantly more likely to have faced hunger: (1) families with children, and (2) senior citizens who live alone. Since 2007, the number of Americans facing hunger problems has increased by more than 12 million people.
For seniors, the problems of hunger are exacerbated by poverty, lack of transportation to obtain food, functional limitations, and health problems. Increasing housing costs, heating costs, transportation costs, and health care costs means that seniors have less money to spend on food. Reducing Social Security will increase these problems.
Over the past five years, hunger in America has been increasing and at the same time, the conservative Republicans in Congress have been advocating that food assistance programs be dismantled based on their beliefs that poor people are lazy and that help should be provided not by government but by non-profit, charitable groups (ideally Christian). However, at the present time, about 6 million American households have had to access emergency food from a food pantry and the food pantries report that they are unable to keep up with demand. Of the people who have had to use emergency food sources, 40% report that they have had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food, and 33% report that they have had to choose between medical care and food.
A recent report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors indicates that the problem of hunger in the United States is growing:
Amidst the holiday season of family feasts and corporate dinners, the mayors released a report that found requests for emergency food assistance rose in 21 out of the 25 cities it surveyed in 2012 and remained at the same level in three.The report also found:
In 95 percent of the cities surveyed, food pantries cut the amount of food each person received and soup kitchens reduced meal sizes. In almost all the cities, pantries capped people's monthly visits as well.The report also shows that 51% of those seeking emergency food were families and that 37% were employed.
Slightly more than half of those who have faced hunger in the past week have participated in at least one of the three major Federal food assistance programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), the National School Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. At the present time, Republicans in Congress are seeking to cut $16 billion from the food stamp program.
Geographically, hunger is found throughout the United States, but it is most frequent in Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina.
There’s also another geographic aspect to food insecurity, a concept which geographers call food deserts (note that this is “deserts” not “desserts”). Food deserts are places where there is a lack of easily accessible supermarkets or grocers which means that people have to travel a long distance to purchase food, or rely on fast food or more expensive convenience stores. Food deserts tend to increase the frequency of hunger.
Food deserts most commonly occur in low income, urban neighborhoods and tend to have their greatest impact on minority populations. Rich, white neighborhoods are typically closer to supermarkets and this means that these people have more access to cheaper foods. Since the 1960s, researchers have consistently found that the poor pay more.
Food deserts are also found in rural areas, and particularly on Indian reservations. This means that people have to travel farther to obtain food, which increases the cost of the food.
Food deserts also result in less access to healthy food such as fresh fruits and vegetables. One recent study found that people living in households with incomes under $24,000 were much less likely to have affordable fresh foods available to them than people with incomes of $60,000 to $89,999.
While the problems of hunger in America can be partially addressed through local, non-governmental programs ranging from community-run urban farms, car-sharing programs, and community kitchens, the solutions will require governmental assistance. Cutting federal programs, including social security, will only make the problem worse.