Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Hunger by the Numbers

Soup kitchen
Roughly 49 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. (Film still from A Place at The Table, courtesy of Participant Media)

One thing is for certain—the Great Recession and its aftermath have provided us with a lot of numbers, few of them encouraging. 
  • 63.2 percent of people in the U.S. have a job or are actively seeking work — the lowest labor force percentage since 1978.
  • 10 percent was the peak unemployment rate in October 2009, and dropped to 7.6 percent as of May 2013.  Today there are three unemployed people for every job opening.
  • 47 million Americans have depended on SNAP to put food on the table as of February 2013, compared to just over 26 million in December of 2006 before the recession began (Dec. 2007).
  • 15 percent of the population was living below the poverty line in 2011 and 34.4 percent were considered poor or near poor (living below 200 percent of the poverty line).  Pre-recession the poverty rate was 13 percent (2007).
  • $14,500 is what a person working full-time at the minimum wage earns per year. The official poverty line for a family of three—one parent with two children—is $17,568 and most families need to make twice that to afford basic needs.

But surrounding those numbers is a silver lining: the safety net works. Recent numbers released by USDA show that although too many, 14.5 percent, in the United States continue to struggle with hunger, the system has not failed. While jobs vanished and the poverty rate is the highest in decades, the prevalence of food insecurity – meaning a lack of money or resources to provide for the next meal – remained essentially unchanged since 2008. 

  • 42 percent of food-insecure households were aided by the SNAP program in 2012.
  • 15.9 million children lived in food insecure households in 2012, compared to 16.7 in 2011.

Still, 49 million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from in a country filled with abundance. We must do better and we cannot weaken the safety net without seeing those numbers rise. But some in Congress propose to do just that. Here are some disturbing numbers and consequences. 

  • $40 billion is the amount of SNAP cuts in a House of Representatives proposal that expected to be voted on in the next couple of weeks.
  • 6 million people may lose or receive reduced benefits if the cuts are enacted.
  • $167.5 billion is the estimated cost to the country, directly and indirectly, for hunger in 2011, taking into account its effects on health, education, and economic productivity.
  • $96.9 billion is the amount spent on food benefits in federal nutrition programs in 2011, compared to $4.1 billion in food distributed by private charities during the same period.  Churches and charities cannot fill in the gap if the government were to drastically reduce spending on anti-hunger programs.

The numbers add up to a simple conclusion: protecting and reinforcing the safety net, especially during tough economic times, means fewer people go hungry. The sum is greater than its parts.  Tell your member of Congress to vote NO on SNAP cuts in the House farm bill.


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