The basics: the Fed has surveyed 60,000 American families. It found 88.1% to be food secure they dont worry about getting food. But 11.9% are food insecure sometimes they dont know if they can afford food, but by doing without medications or delaying the rent they avoid hunger. That category is 13.5 million households. Finally 3.9%, or 4.4 million American households, sometimes go hungry for lack of money.
The statistics also show a 14.7% increase in hunger in one year as we enter another year of recovery from the recession.
The interior numbers show that the South and the West are hungrier, that Blacks and Hispanics are more vulnerable, that households headed by single women are more vulnerable and, of course, the poor. (1)
A separate survey last year in Los Angeles found 2.9 million in California suffer food insecurity or hunger some 10% of San Fernando Valley folks are at risk of not getting enough to eat, and if compared by race, Blacks are most at risk, then Whites, then Hispanics. Among low-income adults the food risk percentages grow huge, with Latinos leading at 38.2%. The poor always say high rents are the single biggest drain on what money they have; the homeless daily have to choose between a motel room and food. In California, food insecurity has increased 16% over two years. (3)
California is the biggest food producing state.
A couple of online experts have called the USDA report stunning.
There is, simply, a national denial. Its echoed in the daily press. So the newspapers in my city run big, colorful daily sections on food preparation. In general the media is dramatically disinterested in the poor, and dramatically interested in the rich the same newspapers carry regular sections on real estate which show baronial homes in Bel Air.
It would be nice to know that the Fed is doing something about all those hungry families. Actually the Food Stamp program (also run by the USDA) is a torn safety net. First, as an index of our Governments concern, the allocation for Food Stamps is 0.0017 of the national budget. The average recipient gets $83 a month.(4 ) Second, the help is not getting through. In California, agencies admit only 45% of people who could use Food Stamps get them, even when they qualify. Consequently, food banks and private charities are besieged. American Second Harvest, an emergency food charity, now reports one in four people in a soup kitchen line is a child. Sometimes the hungry and homeless are turned away.
Not just hunger, but the base of national poverty itself is again broadening, with nearly 37 million Americans in poverty in 2004.(5)
The national obsession with extravagant wealth shows precipitous contrasts in the media. Nine days after the Daily News reported on Los Angeles hunger, the Los Angeles Times ran a colorful front page photo of coach Phil Jacksons wallpaper-size grin at being signed by the Lakers for a three year contract at $10 million dollars a year. (6)
Obviously you cant force people to read what disinterests them, but if there was a Richter scale for national yawns, it seems the topic of hunger would stretch in at magnitude 10.
Part of the legendary American strut comes from being first as technological problem solvers. Were a culture of scientific genius, we have astonished the rest of the world by being first in flight, first with a moon walk, with planetary probes, and plagues conquered, and we have Star-Wars armaments. The public likes this; its a promise of our kind of humanitarianism that special technology will take care of you. Politicians without ready answers can always point to scientists and smile: these guys. The fix is on the way.
But science only goes so far. Its helpless at fixing the education crisis: our public schools are turning out divisions of semi-literates each year. Nor labor disputes, juvenile delinquency, wars, child abuse. Science is notorious at local weather forecasts, it cant predict the stock market, it cannot fix corruption, it cannot prevent the common cold. But to an extent science and politicians have a symbiotic relationship, and scientists join in with the fix it charade with politicians because that means more government grant money, ever more breakthroughs on the evening news, more prizes, and bigger salaries.