January 27, 2014

As President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his annual State of the Union address, Feeding America has issued its annual"State of Hunger in America," assessing the prevalence of food insecurity and the availability of public and private food assistance.

"While there are signs that our economy is improving, millions of Americans are still struggling to put food on the table. Many families are scraping by on reduced wages or part-time hours, and many more remain jobless," said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America."Cuts made to SNAP last November increased hardship among many low-income households, and the additional SNAP cuts contained in the proposed farm bill will hit affected families even harder. Our food banks are struggling to meet this increased need. We must ensure that all Americans have access to enough nutritious food to feed themselves and their families. This means Congress and the Administration must protect and strengthen federal food assistance, and we must all do our part in our communities to help our neighbors."

Here are some facts about the State of Hunger in America in 2014:

Prevalence of Hunger

Currently 49 million people in our nation live in homes that are identified as food insecure – meaning that they do not always have access to adequate amounts of food to maintain an active, healthy lifestyle, according to data released by the USDA in September 2013.

The USDA found that 20 percent of households with children and nine percent of elderly people living alone are food insecure.

This high prevalence of food insecurity is driven by current economic conditions. The number of individuals living in food insecurity increased by 35 percent in the first year of the recession (from 2007 to 2008) and has not abated.

While the nationwide unemployment rate has dropped to 6.7 percent, the topline number belies the deeper story of limited economic opportunity.

  • Nearly 38 percent of all jobless individuals have been unemployed for 6 months or longer.
  • 10.4 million individuals are unemployed
  • An additional 7.8 million people are working part time because their hours were cut back or they were unable to find full-time work. There are still 3 job seekers for every single job opening.

As in past recessions, low-income households will be the last to recover from the recession.

  • Unemployment among college graduates is 3.3 percent,
  • Unemployment is nearly 10 percent for those with less than a high school diploma.
  • Mid-wage jobs constituted 60 percent of recession losses but make up only 22 percent of recovery growth.
  • Low-wage occupations represented 21 percent of recession job losses, but made up 58 percent of recovery growth. This means that low-wage workers are now competing with better trained workers for low-wage jobs.

Federal Food Assistance

Federal nutrition programs are working exactly as they were designed, growing in response to increased need to provide food to people who might otherwise go hungry. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) is the first line of defense for low-income Americans facing hunger.

  • 76% of SNAP households enrolled include a child, a senior, or someone who is disabled.
  • 91% of benefits go to households with income at or below the poverty line.
  • SNAP participants saw their benefits cut on November 1, 2013.
  • A family of 4 lost $36 in maximum monthly benefit, or $432 in annual benefits.
  • In fiscal year 2014 alone, the November SNAP cuts will result in $5 billion in lost food assistance, or 1.9 billion lost meals.

The number of lost SNAP meals is over half the total number of meals distributed annually by Feeding America's national network of food banks, and food banks and other charities simply will not be able to make up the difference.

Unfortunately, Congress is considering additional cuts to SNAP in the farm bill, exposing vulnerable families to a further loss of food assistance.

Private Food Assistance

In addition to the federal nutrition programs, 1 in 8 Americans annually rely on assistance from Feeding America food banks.

The number of people served each year by our network of food banks increased nearly 46 percent from 2006 to 2010, largely due to the recession, and has not abated since.

Food banks have been working to meet sustained high need for several years and are strained under increased need and escalating food and fuel costs.

The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is a means-tested federal program that provides food commodities at no cost to Americans in need of short-term hunger relief through emergency food providers like food banks, pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters.

TEFAP commodity support declined nearly 30 percent in FY2012, leading to 40 percent decline in TEFAP deliveries for food banks in 2013.

While additional investments for TEFAP, proposed in the farm bill, will help reverse these declines, they will not make up for the meals lost due to the SNAP cuts.

Impact of Hunger

In addition to the immediate physical effects, hunger can also have significant long-term consequences. Children who are malnourished for even a brief period of time may experience irreversible cognitive and physical impairments. Proper nutrition is important in establishing and maintaining a good foundation that has implications on a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity. Seniors who do not have access to proper nutrition are at risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and other age-related illnesses.

Hunger also has economic consequences. The negative health outcomes of hunger that result in absenteeism and lower academic performance can result in a child being held back a grade or dropping out of school. These outcomes lead to a greater likelihood of limited employability, lessened workforce productivity, poorer judgment and poorer job performance.


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