Hunger in the United States
Hunger in the United States is an issue that affects millions of Americans, including some who are middle class, or who are in households where all adults are in work. Research from the Food Safety and Inspection Service found that 14.9% of American households were food insecure during 2011, with 5.7% suffering from very low food security. Journalists and charity workers have reported further increased demand for emergency food aid during 2012 and 2013.
The United States produces far more food than it needs for domestic consumption - hunger within the U.S. is caused by some Americans having insufficient money to buy food for themselves or their families. Hunger is addressed by a mix of public and private food aid provision. Both types of aid have been expanding in the 21st century, with hunger relief efforts by the government growing faster than aid provided by civil society.
Historically, the U.S. has been a world leader in reducing hunger. While precise comparative figures are not available, studies suggest that in the 18th century there was far less hunger in the United States than in the rest of the world. In the 19th and early 20th century western Europe began to catch up. After the outbreak of World War I however, the U.S. was able to send tens of millions of tons of food to relieve severe hunger in Europe. This act was unprecedented in the world's history, and was the first of many substantial actions by the United States to relieve international hunger and poverty.
In the later half the of twentieth century, other advanced economies in Europe and Asia began to overtake the U.S. in terms of reducing hunger among their own populations. In 2011, a report presented in the New York Times found that among 20 economies recognized as advanced by the International Monetary Fund and for which comparative rankings for food security were available, the U.S. was joint worst. Nonetheless, in March 2013, the Global Food Security Index commissioned by DuPont, ranked the U.S. number one for food affordability and overall food security.
- 1 Causes
- 2 Impact of hunger
- 3 Fighting hunger
- 4 History
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes and references
- 7 External links
Hunger in the United States is caused by a complex combination of factors. There is not a single cause attributed to hunger and there is much debate over who or what is responsible for the prevalence of hunger in the United States. However, researchers most commonly focus on the link between hunger and poverty. The federal poverty level is defined as “the minimum amount of income that a household needs to be able to afford housing, food, and other basic necessities.” As of the year 2014, the federal poverty level for a family of four was $23,850. Based on her research on poverty, Pennsylvania State University economic geographer Amy Glasmeier claims that when individuals live at, slightly above, or below the poverty line, unexpected expenses contribute to individuals reducing their food intake. Medical emergencies have a significant impact on poor families due to the high cost of medical care and hospital visits. Also, urgent car repairs reduce a family’s ability to provide food, since the issue must be address in order to allow individuals to travel to and from work. Although income cannot be labeled as the sole cause of hunger, it plays a key role in determining if people possess the means to provide basic needs to themselves and their family.
The loss of a job reflects a core issue that contributes to hunger - employment insecurity. People who live in areas with higher unemployment rates and who have a minimal or very low amount of liquid assets are shown to be more likely to experience hunger or food insecurity. The complex interactions between a person’s job status, income and benefits, and the number of dependents they must provide for, influence the impact of hunger on a family.
Despite research on the correlation between poverty and hunger, comparison of data from the December Supplement of the 2009 Current Population Survey illustrated that poverty is not a direct causation of hunger. Of all household incomes near the federal poverty line, 65% were identified as food secure while 20% of households above the poverty line with an income-to-poverty ratio of approximately two were labeled as food insecure. The income-to-poverty ratio is a common measure used when analyzing poverty. In this particular case, it means that these households' total family income was approximately twice that of the federal poverty line for their specific family size. As this data illustrates, the factors which contribute to hunger are interrelated and complex.
Impact of hunger
In 2011 16.7 million children lived in food-insecure households, about 35% more than 2007 levels, though only 1.1% of U.S. children, or 845,000, saw reduced food intake or disrupted eating patterns at some point during the year, and most cases were not chronic.
Almost 16 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2012. Schools throughout the country had 21 million children participate in a free or reduced lunch program and 11 million children participate in a free or reduced breakfast program. The extent of American youth facing hunger is clearly shown through the fact that 47% of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants are under the age of 18. The states with the highest rate of food insecure children were North Dakota, Minnesota, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts as of 2012.
Children who experience hunger have an increase in both physical and psychological health problems. Although there is not a direct correlation between chronic illnesses and hunger among children, the overall health and development of children decreases with exposure to hunger and food insecurity. Children are more likely to get ill and require a longer recovery period when they don't consume the necessary amount of nutrients. In regards to academics, children who experience hunger perform worse in school on both mathematic and reading assessments. Children who consistently start the day with a nutritious breakfast have an average increase of 17.5% on their standardized math scores than children who regularly miss breakfast. Also, behavioral issues arise in both the school environment and in the children’s ability to interact with peers of the same age. This is identified by both parental and teacher observations and assessments. Hunger takes a psychological toll on youth and negatively affects their mental health. Their lack of food contributes to the development of emotional problems and causes children to have visited with a psychiatrist more often than their sufficiently fed peers. Research shows that hunger plays a role in late youth and young adult depression and suicidal ideation. It was identified as a factor in 5.6% of depression and suicidal ideation cases in a Canadian longitudinal study.
Like children, the elderly population of the United States are vulnerable to the negative consequences of hunger. Senior citizens are considered to be of 65 years of age or older. In 2011, there was an increase of .9% in the number of seniors facing the threat of hunger from 2009. This resulted in a population of 8.8 million seniors who are facing this threat; however, a total of 1.9 million seniors were dealing with hunger at this time. The organization Meals On Wheels reports that Mississippi, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Texas are the states with the top rates of seniors facing the threat of hunger respectively. Due to food insecurity and hunger, the elderly population experiences negative effects on their overall health and mental wellbeing. Not only are they more prone to reporting hearth attacks, other cardiac conditions, and asthma, but food insecure seniors are also 60% more likely to develop depression.
Minority groups are affected by hunger to far greater extent than the Caucasian population in the United States. Based on research conducted by Washington University in St. Louis on food insufficiency by race, only 11.5% of Whites experience food insufficiency compared to 22.98% of African Americans, 16.67% of American Indians, and 26.66% of Hispanics when comparing each racial sample group. Feeding America reports that 29% of all Hispanic children and 38% of all African American children received emergency food assistance in 2010. White children received more than half the amount of emergency food assistance with only 11% receiving aid. However, Hispanic household are less likely to have interaction with SNAP than other ethnic groups and received assistance from the program.
There exist distinct differences between how hunger is experienced in the rural and urban settings. Rural counties experience high food insecurity rates twice as often as urban counties. It has been reported that approximately 3 million rural households are food insecure which is equal to 15 percent of the total population of rural households. This reflects the fact that 7.5 million people in rural regions live below the federal poverty line. This poverty in rural communities is more commonly found in Southern states. In addition, rural areas possess fewer grocery stores than urban regions with similar population density and geography; however, rural areas do have more supermarkets than similar urban areas. Surprisingly, research has discovered that rural counties' poverty level and racial composition does not have a direct, significant association to supermarket access in the area. Urban areas by contrast have shown through countless studies that an increase in the African American population correlates to fewer supermarkets and the ones available require residents to travel a longer distance. Despite these differences both city and rural areas experience a higher rate of hunger than suburban areas.
Living in regions that are considered food deserts can prevent individuals from easily accessing healthy food markets and grocery stores due to lack of availability. Studies have shown that within these food deserts there exists distinct racial disparities. Compared to Caucasian neighborhoods, predominately African American neighborhoods have been reported to have half the amount of chain supermarkets available to residents. Despite racial differences, the vast majority of individuals living in food deserts struggle with transportation to food sources. Since these areas are low-income neighborhoods, many families may be unable to have the financial means to easily and regularly access supermarkets or grocery stores that tend to be located far from their home. This acts as an additional obstacle individuals must face when trying to provide food for their family and prevent hunger.
Public sector hunger relief
As of 2012, the United States government spent about $50 billion annually on 10 programs, mostly administrated by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, which in total deliver food assistance to one in five Americans.
The largest and only universal program is the   Cuts in the food stamp programme came into force in November 2013, impacting an estimated 48 million poorer Americans, including 22 million children. Commentators have stated hardship could worsen if a new Farm bill is passed: the version currently backed by the Democrats has a further $4 billion worth of cuts, while the version backed by Republicans would cut food stamps by $40 billion.
Most other programs are targeted at particular types of citizen. The largest of these is the School Lunch program, which in 2010 helped feed 32 million children a day. The second largest is the School Breakfast Program, feeding 16 million children in 2010. The next largest is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which provide food aid for about 9 million women and children in 2010.
A program that is neither universal nor targeted is Emergency Food Assistance Program. This is a successor to the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation which used to distribute surplus farm production direct to poor people; now the program works in partnership with the private sector, by delivering the surplus produce to food banks and other civil society agencies.
Private sector hunger relief
The oldest type of formal hunger relief establishment used in the United States is believed to be the almshouse, but these are no longer in existence. In the 21st century, hunger relief agencies run by civil society include:
- Food pantries are the most numerous food aid establishment found within the United States. The food pantry hands out packages of grocery to the hungry. Unlike soup kitchens, they invariably give out enough food for several meals, which is to be consumed off the premises. A related establishment is the food closet, which serves a similar purpose to the food pantry, but will never be a dedicated building. Instead a food closet will be a room within a larger builder like a church or community center. Food closets can be found in rural communities too small to support a food pantry. Food pantries often have procedures to prevent unscrupulous people taking advantage of them, such as requiring registration.
- Soup kitchens, along with similar establishments like food kitchens and meal centers, provide hot meals for the hungry and are the second most common type of food aid agency in the U.S. Unlike food pantry, these establishments usually provide only a single meal per visit, but they have the advantage for the end user of generally providing food with no questions asked.
- The Food bank is the third most common type of food aid agency. While some will give food direct to the hungry, food banks in the U.S. generally provide a warehouse like function, distributing food to front line agencies such as food pantries and soup kitchens.
- Food rescue organisations also perform a warehouse like function, distributing food to front line orgs, though they are less common and tend to operate on a smaller scale than do food banks. Whereas food banks may receive supplies from large growers, manufacturers, supermarkets and the federal government, rescue orgs typically retrieve food from sources such as restaurants along with smaller shops and farms.
Together, these civil society food assistance establishments are sometimes called the "Emergency Food Assistance System" (EFAS). In 2010, an estimated 37 million Americans received food from the EFAS. However, the amount of aid it supplies is much less than the public sector, with an estimate made in the year 2000 suggesting that the EFAS is able to give out only about $9.5 worth of food per person per month. According to a comprehensive government survey completed in 2002, about 80% of emergency kitchens and food pantries, over 90% of food banks, and all known food rescue organisations, were established in the US after 1981, with much of the growth occurring after 1991.
Pre 19th centuryBritish Colonists attempting to settle in North America during the 16th and early 17th century often faced severe hunger. Compared with South America, readily available food could be hard to come by. Many settlers starved to death, leading to several colonies being abandoned. Other settlers were saved after being supplied with food by Native Americans, with the intercession of Pocahontas being a famous example. It did not take long however for colonists to adapt to conditions in the new world, discovering North America to be a place of extraordinary fertility. According to author Peter K. Eisinger, the historian Robert Beverley's portrayal of America as the "Garden of the World" was already a stock image as early as 1705.
By the time of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, hunger was already considerably less severe than in Western Europe. Even by 1750, low prevalence of hunger had helped provide American Colonists with an estimated life expectancy of 51 years, while in Britain the figure was 37, in France 26 - by 1800, life expectancies had improved to 56 years for the U.S., 33 years for France and dropped to 36 years for Britain. The relative scarcity of hunger in the U.S. was due in part to low population pressure in relation to fertile land, and as labor shortages prevented any able-bodied person from suffering from extreme poverty associated with unemployment.
Until the early 19th century, even the poorest citizens of the United States were generally protected from hunger by a combination of factors. The ratio of productive land to population was high. Upper class Americans often still held to the old European ideal of Noblesse oblige and made sure their workers had sufficient food. Labour shortages meant the poor could invariably find a position - although until the American Revolution this often involved indentured servitude, this at least protected the poor from the unpredictable nature of wage labor, and sometimes paupers were rewarded with their own plot of land at the end of their period of servitude. Additionally, working class traditions of looking out for each other were strong.
Social and economic conditions changed substantially in the early 19th century, especially with the market reforms of the 1830s. While overall prosperity increased, productive land became harder to come by, and was often only available for those who could afford substantial rates. It became more difficult to make a living either from public lands or a small farm without substantial capital to buy up to date technology. Sometimes small farmers were forced off their lands by economic pressure and became homeless. American society responded by opening up numerous Almshouses, and some municipal officials began giving out small sums of cash to the poor. Such measures did not fully check the rise in hunger; by 1850, life expectancy in the US had dropped to 43 years, about the same as then prevailed in Western Europe.
The number of homeless and hungry people in the U.S increased in the 1870s due to industrialization. Though economic developments were hugely beneficial overall, driving America's soup kitchens in U.S. cities.
By the turn of the century, improved economic conditions were helping to reduce hunger for all sections of society, even the poorest. The early 20th century saw a substantial rise in agricultural productivity; while this led to rural unemployment even in the otherwise "roaring" 1920s, it helped lower food prices throughout the United States. During World War I and its aftermath, the U.S. was able to send over 20 millions of food to relieve hunger in Europe. The United States has since been a world leader for relieving hunger internationally, although her 
The United State's progress in reducing domestic hunger had been thrown into reverse by the Great depression of the 1930s. The existence of hunger within the U.S. became a widely discussed issue due to coverage in the Mass media. Both civil society and government responded. Existing soup kitchens and bread lines run by the private sector increased their opening times, and many new ones were established. Government sponsored relief was one of the main strands of the New Deal launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Some of the government established Alphabet agencies aimed to relieve poverty by raising wages, others by reducing unemployment as with the Works Progress Administration. The Federal Surplus Relief Corporation aimed to directly tackle hunger by providing poor people with food. By the late 1940s, these various relief efforts combined with improved economic conditions had been successful in substantially reducing hunger within the United States.
According to sociology professor Janet Poppendieck, hunger within the US was widely considered to be a solved problem until the mid-1960s. By the mid sixties, several states had ended the free distribution of federal food surpluses, instead providing an early form of food stamps, which had the benefit of allowing recipients to choose food of their liking, rather than having to accept whatever happened to be in surplus at the time. There was however a minimum charge; some people could not afford the stamps, causing them to suffer severe hunger. One response from American society to the rediscovery of hunger was to step up the support provided by private sector establishments like soup kitchens and meal centers. The food bank, a new form of civil society hunger relief agency, was invented in 1967 by John van Hengel.
It was not however until the 1980s that U.S. food banks began to experience rapid growth. A second response to the "rediscovery" of hunger in the mid sixties had been extensive lobbying of politicians to improve welfare. The Hunger lobby, as it was widely called by journalists, was largely successful in achieving its aims, at least in the short term. In 1967 a Senate subcommittee held widely publicized hearings on the issue, and in 1969 President Richard Nixon made an emotive address to Congress where he called for government action to end hunger in the U.S.
In the 1970s, U.S. federal expenditure on hunger relief grew by about 500%, with food stamps distributed free of charge to those in greatest need. According to Poppendieck, welfare was widely considered preferable to grass roots efforts, as the latter could be unreliable, did not give recipients consumer-style choice in the same way as did food stamps, and risked recipients feeling humiliated by having to turn to charity. In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan's administration scaled back welfare provision, leading to a rapid rise in activity from grass roots hunger relief agencies.
Poppendieck says that for the first few years after the change, there was vigorous opposition from the political Left, who argued that the state welfare was much more suitable for meeting recipients needs. But in the decades that followed, food banks have became an accepted part of America's response to hunger. Demand for the services of emergency hunger relief agencies increased further in the late 1990s, after the "end of welfare as we know it" with President Clinton's Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.
In comparison to other advanced economies, the U.S. had high levels of hunger even during the first few years of the 21st century, due in part to greater inequality and relatively less spending on welfare. As was generally the case across the world, hunger in the U.S. was made worse by the lasting global inflation in the price of food that began in late 2006 and by the financial crisis of 2008. By 2012, about 50 million Americans were food insecure, approximately 1 in 6 of the population, with the proportion of children facing food insecurity even higher at about 1 in 4.
Hunger has increasingly began to sometimes affect even middle class Americans. According to a 2012 study by UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, even married couples who both work but have low incomes will sometimes now require emergency food assistance.
In the 1980s and 90s, advocates of small government had been largely successful in de-politicizing hunger, making it hard to launch effective efforts to address the root causes, such as changing government policy to reduce poverty among low earners. In contrast to the 1960s and 70s, the 21st century has seen little significant political lobbying for an end to hunger within America, though by 2012 there had been an increase in efforts by various activists and journalists to raise awareness of the problem. American society has however responded to increased hunger by substantially increasing its provision of emergency food aid and related relief, from both the private and public sector, and from the two working together in partnership.
- Malnutrition in the United States
- Economic issues in the United States
- Poverty in the United States
- United States Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs
- Feeding America
- A Place at the Table
- Food security
Notes and references
- William A Dando, ed. (2012). "passim, see esp Food Assistance Landscapes in the United States by Andrew Walters and Food Aid Policies in the United States: Contrasting views by Ann Myatt James ; also see Historiography of Food". Food and Famine in the 21st Century.
- Alex Ferreras (2012-07-11). "Thousands More in Solano, Napa Counties are Turning to Food Banks". Retrieved 2012-07-11.
- "American Shame".
- "Global Food Security Index". London: The Economist Intelligence Unit. March 5, 2013. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
- Borger, C., Gearing, M., Macaluso, T., Mills, G., Montaquila, J., Weinfield, N., & Zedlewski, S. (2014). Hunger in America 2014 Executive Summary. Feeding America.
- "2014 Poverty Guidelines". Medicaid. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
- Valentine, Vikki. "Q & A: The Causes Behind Hunger in America". NPR. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
- Eggebeen, D., & Lichter, D. (1991). Race, Family Structure, and Changing Poverty Among American Children. American Sociological Review, 56(6), 805.
- "Household Food Security in the United States in 2011". USDA. September 2012. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
- "Childhood Hunger In America". No Kid Hungry. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
- Kirkpatrick, Sharon; McIntyre, Lynn; Potestio, Melissa (August 2010). "Child Hunger and Long-term Adverse Consequences for Health". JAMA Pediatrics 164 (8).
- Alaimo, K.; Frongillo Jr., E.A.; Olson, C.M. "Food insufficiency and American school-aged children's cognitive, academic, and psychosocial development". Pediatrics 108 (1): 44–53.
- Lavorato, Dina; McIntyre, Lynn; Patten, Scott; Williams, Jeanne (August 5, 2013). "Depression and suicide ideation in late adolescence and early adulthood are an outcome of child hunger". Journal of Affective Disorders 150 (1): 123–129.
- Gundersen, Craig; Ziliak, James (September 1, 2013). "The State of Senior Hunger in America 2011: An Annual Report".
- Meals On Wheels Research Foundation (2012). "Senior Hunger Report Card".
- Jaspreet, Bindra; Borden, Enid (2011). "Spotlight On Senior Health: Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans (Executive Summary)".
- Heflin, Colleen; Huang, Jin; Nam, Yunju; Sherraden, Michael. "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Food Insufficiency: Evidence from a Statewide Probability Sample of White, African American, American Indian, and Hispanic Infants". Center for Social Development, Washington University in St. Louis.
- Feeding America (2010). "When the Pantry is Bare: Emergency Food Assistance and Hispanic Children (Executive Summary)".
- "Rural Hunger Fact Sheet". Feeding America. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
- Bower, Kelly; Gaskin, Darrell; Rohde, Charles; Thorpe, Roland (January 2014). "The intersection of neighborhood racial segregation, poverty, and urbanicity and its impact on food store availability in the United States". Preventive Medicine 58: 33–39.
- Burke, Jessica; Keane, Christopher; Walker, Renee (September 2010). "Disparities and access to healthy food in the United States: A review of food deserts literature". Health & Place 16 (5): 876–884.
- Universal in the sense that anyone who meets the criteria is given aid, unlike most other programs which are targeted at specific types of citizen like children, women or the disabled.
- SNAP Monthly Data
- Elizabeth Becker (2001-11-14). "Shift From Food Stamps to Private Aid Widens".
- JASON DePARLE and ROBERT GEBELOFF (2009-11-28). "Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fade".
- Karen McVeigh (2013-12-24). "Demand for food stamps soars as cuts sink in and shelves empty".
- KIM SEVERSON and WINNIE HU (8 November 2013). "Cut in Food Stamps Forces Hard Choices on Poor". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
- NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF (16 November 2013). "Prudence or Cruelty?". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
- Janet Poppendieck (1999). "Introduction, Chpt 1". Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement. Penguine.
- Graham Riches (1986). "passim, see esp. Models of Food Banks". Food banks and the welfare crisis. Lorimer.
- Peter K. Eisinger (1998). "chpt. 1". Toward an End to Hunger in America.
- Although in 1900, U.S. life expectancy was still only estimated at 48 years, 2 years lower than in 1725 – see Fogel (2004) chpt 1.
- James Vernon (2007). "Chpt. 5". Hunger: A Modern History.
- The FSRC also helped farmers by buying food they were unable to sell profitably on the market.
- R Shep Melnick (1994). "Chpt. 9: The Surprising success of food stamps". Between the Lines: Interpreting Welfare Rights.
- Andrew Walter (2012). William A Dando, ed. Food and Famine in the 21st Century.
- "HOUSEHOLD FOOD SECURITY IN THE GLOBAL NORTH: CHALLENGES AND RESPONSIBILITIES REPORT OF WARWICK CONFERENCE".
- Debra Watson (2002-05-11). "Recession and welfare reform increase hunger in US". World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
- John Turner (2012-09-20). "Poverty and hunger in America".
- Gleaners Indianna Food bank Retrieved 2012-07-18
- Household Food Security in the United States in 2011 - official USDA report.
- Facts on Hunger in the USA, 2013, from the World Hunger Education Service.
- Food Insecurity, a special issue from the Journal of Applied Research on Children (2012)