More than one in seven, or 14.6 per cent of American households, suffered from food insecurity in 2008, according to the most recent data on hunger released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) yesterday.
The 3.5 percentage point increase from 2007 is the largest one-year increase since the USDA first began publishing data in 1998.
“The data released today is not surprising,” said the Rev David Beckmann, president of aid agency Bread for the World. “What should really shock us is that almost one in four children in our country lives on the brink of hunger.”
"According to the report, in 2008, 16.7 million children, or 22.5 per cent, were food insecure – 4.2 million more than the year before “We must make serious progress against child hunger when Congress renews child nutrition programmes next year,” Beckmann continued.
The most recent data was released just as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testifies before the Senate about the administration’s priorities for re-authorisation of child nutrition programmes. President Barack Obama set the ambitious but achievable goal of ending child hunger by 2015 and Vilsack is charged with making it a reality.
Bread for the World's Beckmann pointed to rapidly rising unemployment and SNAP participation as a barometer of food security. “With millions of Americans losing their jobs, participation in SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Asistance Program]has reached record levels as more families are in need of food assistance,” he said. More than 36 million people, half of them children, received SNAP benefits in August 2009 — a 24 per cent increase since the same time last year.
“Child hunger is not just a casualty of the recession. It was a problem before the recession, and unless we take the necessary steps, kids will continue to suffer after the economy recovers,” Mr Beckmann said.
Even before the recession, researchers estimated that nearly half of all children, and 90 per cent of African American children, will receive SNAP benefits by the age of 20, according to a study recently published in an American Medical Association journal.
“The recession has made the problem of hunger worse, and it has also made it more visible,” added Beckmann. “Increased public awareness and the administration’s commitment gives me hope. To end hunger, our leaders need to strengthen nutrition programs and provide steady jobs that allow parents to escape the cycle of poverty and feed their families for years to come.”
The job-creating potential of “greening” the US economy is the subject of Bread for the World Institute’s 2010 Hunger Report: A Just and Sustainable Recovery, which will be released on 23 November 2009.
The report explores how the worst recession in 75 years can be the catalyst for a historic shift in the economy that creates sustainable opportunities for low-income Americans to work their way out of poverty and provide for their families.
For state facts on US child nutrition programmes and a state-by-state data on food security, unemployment, and SNAP participation, go to: www.bread.org/foodsecurity.