By Sally Greenberg, National Consumers League Executive Director
Last week, the Department of Agriculture revealed a startling statistic: the number of Americans who live with persistent hunger day in and day out has soared to 49 million over the past year – an increase of 13 million people. This is the highest number since the United States began tracking “food insecurity” 14 years ago. One third of those people have “very low food security,” which means lack of money is forcing families to skip meals, cut portions or forgo food at some point over the past year.
This 49 million is a difficult number to grasp. I don’t understand how, in a country where some Wall Street firms are giving double-digit millions in bonuses this year, we can allow people to go hungry. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack rightly noted, “These numbers are a wake-up call for the country.” President Obama reacted as well, saying the study was “particularly troubling.”
One of the findings is especially sad: 506,000 households with children face “very low food security,” up from 323,000 the year before. Not surprisingly, households headed by single mothers are overrepresented. The main reason for these disturbing numbers is the growth in the number of Americans who are unemployed. Food stamp rolls have expanded to 36 million, an increase of nearly 40 percent. Thank goodness for programs like food stamps and unemployment compensation. These are part of the New Deal programs that Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor under FDR, championed and got enacted with her New Deal Colleagues. Perkins was NCL’s New York director in the first decade of the 20th Century.
This country of 300 million people is full of ironies. One of six of us doesn’t have enough food to eat week to week, while millions of others have an overabundance of food choices and the money to buy whatever we want to eat. In fact, we diet, exercise, and resist eating too much. America has an abundance of ingenuity and the wealth to tackle even the toughest problems – so why can’t we solve this one and ensure that every person in America has enough to eat in this?
I look for answers to groups like the Food Research and Action Committee, or FRAC, a national nonprofit that builds private-public partnerships to combat hunger in America.
Still – we shouldn’t need an organization like FRAC – yet this latest report underscores that we need this group and others who fight hunger more than ever. Sad but true.