Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Food (In)security and the 2008 Elections

Calltorenewalphoto_3 As the presidential and congressional campaigns begin in earnest in a few weeks (OK, I stand corrected: the presidential discourses HAVE ALREADY begun!), what issues will the candidates address?  My guess is that global climate change, immigration, the war in Iraq, high energy prices, the economy in general and possibly even global poverty (thanks in part to The ONE Campaign's ONE Vote 08) could be the top themes in the public arena. 

But will any candidates talk about domestic hunger, i.e. food insecurity?   

The latest report from the USDA's economic research service, issued just this month, says that 11% of people in our country were food insecure, i.e., hungry, at some time during 2006.  The numbers differ little from 2005.   Says the report:

About one-third of food insecure households (4.0 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security—meaning that the food intake of one or more adults was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food.

Click here for other articles related to this USDA report.

For us in New Mexico, the rate of food insecurity in 2006 was 16%, five percentage points above the national average, said the USDA report.  We were second in the nation to Mississippi, which had an 18.1% rate of food insecurity.

There was an even more alarming report published in the Seattle Times back in February (and republished in March), entitled Many Americans are falling deeper into depths of poverty.  The report, based on a survey conducted by McClatchy Newspapers, said the percentage of Americans living in severe poverty had reached a 32-year high as of 2005.  Poverty and food insecurity go hand in hand. The report noted that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005.  "That's 56 percent faster than the overall number of poor people grew in the same period," said the article.

Here's an excerpt:

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries. That helps explain why the median household income of working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

While the McClatchy survey was based on the 2005 U.S. Census, and the USDA report on data collected in 2006, there is little evidence that things improved much between 2005 and 2007.  Can we get our presidential candidates and our candidates for the U.S. Congress to pay attention?  It won't be easy, but it's a concern that merits a discussion in the political discourse between now and November 2008.


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I was very disappointed that we didn't see a decline this year. Since we had some good progress last year, I thought we would see a drop in this year's numbers. And what is more surprising - and depressing - is that while food insecurity overall did not get any worse, hunger actually increased.

On the days the numbers came out, a colleague asked me how many people in the US are living with HIV/AIDS. He remarked that if that numbers of infected individuals shot up like hunger did this past year, it would have been the story of the year. Alas, hunger in America just isn't news. (I want to be clear though that I am not comparing experiencing hunger in the US with living with HIV/AIDS - the problems are of a different scale in this country).

I did a quick radio interview yesterday about the USDA numbers. The reporter asked me about whether this issue should be part of the platforms of the Presidential candidates. I said I did but the fact that no one, except for John Edwards, was really talking about poverty signaled a failure of groups like Bread to force these issues onto the agenda. I think we have a lot of work to do to get people to understand that hunger is a huge problem in the United States. And we still have a year to make it happen.

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