New Analysis Reveals Extent of Hunger in Every Corner of the U.S.

New Data on Hunger in Our States and Metro Areas
Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center

Close to one-fifth of this country’s households in 2009 that they didn’t have enough money to buy needed food at some point in the prior twelve months.  And the problem was even more serious in households with children; close to one-fourth of these homes couldn’t afford enough food. In 82 of the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), 15 percent or more of respondents answered that they did not have enough money to buy needed food at times in the last 12 months. Practically every congressional district in the country had more than a tenth of respondents reporting food hardship. Of the 436 congressional districts (including the District of Columbia), 311 had a food hardship rate of 15 percent or higher.

These troubling statistics are all part of today’s release of the Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) new report, “Food Hardship: A Closer Look at Hunger.” For the first time, recent data on food hardship – the inability to afford enough food – are available for every state, all 436 Congressional Districts and for 100 of the country’s largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA).  This is the first report based on a sample size adequate to analyze food hardship data at the MSA and congressional district level. And no report before this has been able to look at food hardship data so close in time to publication.

The report analyzes survey data that were collected by Gallup and provided to us at FRAC. The ability to provide such localized data and such up-to-date data comes from Gallup’s partnership with Healthways. As part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, which asks a series of questions on a range of topics including emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and access to basic services, more than 530,000 people have been asked since early 2008: “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

Anyone who follows the news knows that hunger has been on the rise in recent years, but we now know the extent of hunger in cities and Congressional districts.  This data provides each Member of Congress with the most accurate snapshot of their district and their constituents’ struggles with hunger that has ever been available.

Now that we have these data, it’s time to put them to use. These findings give local, state and federal lawmakers, as well as private and nonprofit organizations, the tools they need to put a broad anti-hunger plan in place.

The President has called for an end to childhood hunger by 2015. FRAC applauds this mission and stands behind this goal. Earlier this year, we laid out a multi-step anti-hunger plan. With today’s report, the need to take action has become more urgent.

Among our recommendations on ways to end childhood hunger – and hunger in general:

  • Assure that federal and state governments continue to focus their efforts on boosting the economy and employing tools that especially help low-income workers, such as refundable tax credits and a higher minimum wage.
  • Improve the SNAP/ Food Stamp by making benefits more adequate and expanding eligibility.
  • Strengthen Child Nutrition Programs, including the school meal programs, child care food, afterschool meals and snacks, and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which are due to be renewed by Congress this year.
  • Ensure all families have access to reasonably priced nutritious foods.  This is an especially urgent need in low-income areas in large cities where good supermarkets often don’t exist.
  • Combine and streamline anti-hunger efforts among governments, the private sector and nonprofit organizations at the local, state and federal level.

These are among the most essential strategies we must use to bring down the rates of hunger across the nation.  Click here for the full FRAC plan.

The Gallup-Healthways findings tell a sobering story about how many people, families and communities are struggling to afford enough food to stay healthy.  In a country as powerful and well-off as ours – even in today’s economy – we cannot continue to allow this level of hunger to continue.  Today’s findings are an alarm bell that must not be ignored.