USDA: Economic woes in '11 increased hunger
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WASHINGTON -- Record numbers of U.S. households struggled at times to feed their families last year, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report Wednesday on the state of hunger in America. A lack of resources forced others to cut back on meals and disrupt their usual eating patterns, it says.
A record 17.9 million U.S. households -- 700,000 more than in 2010 -- didn't have enough food at all times last year to sustain active, healthy lives for all family members, according to the USDA. This "food insecurity" affected a record 14.9 percent of U.S. households and more than 50 million people, or about 1 in 6 U.S. residents.
Moreover, more than 1 in 3 "food insecure" households -- 6.8 million -- had "very low food security," meaning one or more family members cut back on eating last year because of a lack of either money or other access to food, according to the report. That's an increase of 400,000 households over 2010.
After falling to 5.4 percent in 2010, the percentage of households with very low food security jumped to 5.7 percent last year, matching the record levels in 2008 and 2009 at the height of the economic collapse, the USDA reported.
The effect on children was significant. Nearly 9 million children lived in food-insecure households last year, and 845,000 were in households with very low food security.
"These numbers show the impact of the recession has not gone away yet," said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit anti-hunger group. "It's one thing to say that wages are flat. But it's something else to say that people aren't getting enough to eat."
The findings in the annual USDA survey, "Household Food Security in the United States in 2011," show that hunger is one of the most persistent and widespread aftereffects of the Great Recession, which claimed 8.7 million U.S. jobs.
While 85 percent of households have adequate access to food, the report says, soup kitchens and food banks across the nation have seen dramatic increases in requests for assistance.
The survey was conducted on a representative sample of the U.S. population. It found that most households -- regardless of race, gender, age and family size -- generally spent less on food last year than they did in 2010, said USDA sociologist Alisha Coleman-Jensen, the report's lead author.
But food insecurity rates were highest among households with children, those headed by single parents and black and Latino families.
The survey data come as congressional Republicans push for massive funding cuts for the food-stamp program to curb enrollment growth and help balance the federal budget. The Democratic-controlled Senate also voted in June to cut food-stamp funding, but by a smaller amount.
First Published September 6, 2012 12:00 am