Feeding America, a network of 200 member food banks and nearly 60,000 food programs across the country, released its quadrennial Hunger in America report and found that, despite unemployment rates going down, the number of families struggling to afford three healthy meals a day has not decreased since the recession was at its peak.
The report shows that the Feeding America Network (FAN) now provides food for more than 15 million households, or more than 46 million people, each year. That averages out to feeding one out of every seven people in the US. Seven million of those people are senior citizens, and twelve million are children.
Of the households that FAN assists, 20 percent have a member who has served in the US military. More than 40 percent of households have at least one member with some education after high school, and one in 10 adults is currently enrolled in school.
To help cope with the rising cost of healthy foods, the report found that 79 percent of households had purchased inexpensive, unhealthy food to be able feed their family; 84 percent of households with children reported doing the same. Other coping strategies, which over half of households reported using three or more of in the past year, included eating food past the expiration date, receiving help from family or friends, watering down food or drinks, selling or pawning personal property, and growing their own food in gardens.
In addition to making what food they do have last, many homes have to choose between feeding their families and paying other necessary expenses. Almost 70 percent of households reported having to choose between food and utilities, 66 percent had to choose between food and medical care, and 67 percent had to choose between food and transportation. The study also found that families were often having to decide whether to eat or have a place to live: 57 percent of households reported having to choose between food and housing.
The USDA has measured food insecurity, or not having access to enough nutritious food to support a healthy diet, for almost 20 years. Between 1995, the first year data were collected, until 2008, the number of American homes dealing with food insecurity stayed steadily between 10 and 12 percent. In 2008, however, the percentage jumped to 14.6 percent.
A study released in June shows that inflation, coupled with the rising cost of food, can help explain why the families dealing with hunger have held steady rather than decrease along with unemployment rates. Most of the jobs created during the economic recovery have been low-wage jobs, like those in shopping centers and fast-food restaurants. The average household income, when adjusted for inflation, decreased by more than $4600 from 2007 to 2012. This means that even as more Americans are finding work, they aren’t earning near what they used to and are struggling as much as ever to make ends meet.
Watch a summary of Feeding America’s report.