70 percent of emergency food centers face threats to their survival
If there is any indicator of the toll that the Great Recession has taken on the public, it would be the statistics beginning to emerge about hunger in the US.
According to a study from the nation's largest food bank operator, the number of Americans in need of food aid has jumped 46 percent in three years, including a 50 percent jump in the number of children needing food assistance, and a 64 percent increase in hunger in senior citizens' homes.
The study, Hunger in America 2010, found that 37 million people, or roughly one in eight US residents, received food aid in 2009. That's a 46 percent jump from a similar survey carried out in 2006.
"Clearly, the economic recession, resulting in dramatically increasing unemployment nationwide, has driven unprecedented, sharp increases in the need for emergency food assistance and enrollment in federal nutrition programs," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America, which operates some 200 food banks across the country.
The study found a growing number of people having to make difficult choices about what to spend their dwindling dollars on, with the rising cost of health care a major contributing factor to hunger.
"More than 46 percent of clients served report having to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food; 39 percent said they had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food; 34 percent report having to choose between paying for medical bills and food; and 35 percent must choose between transportation and food," the study reports.
"It is morally reprehensible that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where one in six people are struggling to make choices between food and other basic necessities," Escarra said in a statement.
She added that "[t]hese are choices that no one should have to make, but particularly households with children. Insufficient nutrition has adverse effects on the physical, behavioral and mental health, and academic performance of children."
Feeding America's study is just the latest to show an alarming trend line for hunger in the United States.
Last week, a report (PDF) from the Food Research and Action Center found that nearly one in five in the US -- 18.5 percent -- report having gone hungry in the past year, up from 16.3 percent at the start of 2008. Households with children were even likelier to experience hunger, with nearly a quarter reporting hunger in the past year.
Perhaps worst of all, the Feeding America study finds that 70 percent of emergency food centers are reporting "one or more problems that threaten their ability to continue operating."
"While we have reached many more people over the past four years, the need of hungry Americans far outpaces our current level of service," Escarra said.