Sunday, March 10, 2013

Hungry Children

A new documentary titled A Place at the Table, starring Jeff Bridges, opened March 1 and is now causing reverberations in the media. It is about people who go hungry. Where? In India? In Bangladesh? No. Here in America. All right. A scattered few? No again. Millions of them. The euphemistic phrasing that has developed around this subject over the years is “food-security.” It startled me to discover that the U.S. Department of agriculture has been tracking this status for what seems to be years. The most recent data (from the Statistical Abstract: 2011, Table 210) that 17.1 million of 117.6 million households were food-insecure in 2008. Those food-insecure are further classified as having “low” and also “very low” food security. Some 6.7 million households in 2008 fell into that second category. Staying with 2008 for a moment longer, in that year, according to the USDA, of 74.1 million children in the United States, 16.7 million lived in food-insecure households, 1.1 million in the most insecure.

One more statistic. In the 2004-2008 period, households grew annually at 1.0 percent a year. Households that fall into the food-insecure category grew at a rate 6.2 percent a year. Mind boggling!  And this in a country that thinks itself—and indeed really is—the richest country in the world.

Hunger is the consequence of poverty. So let’s look at children living in poverty over a more extended period of time and closer to the current year. We have data that reach from 1999 to 2011. Here is a graphic:

What I show here is an index based on the percentage of children living in poverty officially and in households at or below 200 percent of poverty. To illustrate this last category: In 2012 the official poverty rate for a family of four was an income of $23,283 or lower a year; 200 percent of poverty means an income, for such a family, of $46,566 or lower. The 200-percent category, therefore, also includes those in poverty.

The graph I show is an index based on three-year averages. Results for the 1999-2001 period are set at 100, and all following years show divergences from that level. Notice that children who fall into the 200-percent category have increased significantly more than those in poverty using this index. Corresponding actual numbers: In the beginning (1999-01), 15.9 percent of all children were in poverty, 38.1 percent of those in the 200-percent category. In the last period (2009-11), children in hard core poverty represented 21.5 percent of all children, those in the 200-percent category 43.1 percent.

Can I say anything positive about this? Well, there are charities that strain to their utmost to feed the hungry—and having ever greater difficulties doing so as our national wealth is frittered away feeding the 1 percent and on useless wars all over the place. These charities deserve a major raise—which is up to us. The collective seems to be failing. We must act as individuals.
Data for children at or below 200 percent of poverty: link. Data for children in poverty: link.

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