Causes of Rising Hunger in America

Hunger in America is at a 14-year-high. How did it get this bad?

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According to a Department of Agriculture study, 14.6 percent of American households struggled to put food on the table at some point during 2008. In other words, nearly 50 million Americans went hungry, a 14-year high in the United States. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said the findings should be "a wake-up call for the country," but pundits sounded even more alarmed. How could this happen in America? Four takes:

  • The Recession and Rising Food Prices  Jason DeParle of The New York Times says analysts blame the bad economy. "Analysts said the main reason for the growth was the rise in the unemployment rate, to 7.2 percent at the end of 2008 from 4.9 percent a year earlier. And since it now stands at 10.2 percent, the survey might in fact understate the number of Americans struggling to get adequate food," DeParle writes. "Rising food prices, too, might have played a role." DeParle says the increase is "much larger than even the most pessimistic observers of hunger trends had expected and cast an alarming light on the daily hardships caused by the recession’s punishing effect on jobs and wages."
  • Underemployment, Not Just Unemployment  Daniel Indiviglio of The Atlantic suggests that low wages may also be to blame. "The national unemployment rate fails to take into account those who were forced to take cuts in hours or pay -- both of which would also affect the amount of money people have to purchase food." Like DeParle, Indiviglio thinks it's about to get worse. He says the government should  take concrete measures to address the crisis, especially in children. "Any solutions should also take special care to target children: this problem is most serious for them, as they can sometimes suffer development issues if their nutritional needs are not met."
  • Poor Wages and Single-Mother Families   Rick Ungar of TrueSlant echoes Indiviglio in laying blame on "insufficient wages" as well as "a shortage in jobs." But he focuses on the fact that the numbers were worst among single mothers. "Among those most seriously affected are households where mothers are raising children alone where more than one in three single mothers reported struggling to feed their family while one in seven claim that, at some point during the year, someone in the home had gone hungry. In other words, not just not enough food of sufficient quality – but no food at all."
  • Greed, and the Bush Years.  Digby of Hullabaloo says the fact that 49 million Americans struggle to put food on the table is "damned warped."

    All Americans should be ashamed that this is how low the richest, most powerful nation on earth has sunk. True, Bush and Cheney drove this country off a cliff, but it is our collective country, not theirs alone, and this is simply unacceptable. They caused the economic conditions that caused this, but we must address the food access problems that resulted and do so immediately (and seek criminal charges, where appropriate, against those who caused this misery). To the extent that hunger in America - or "food insecurity," to use the euphemism - is not among the most important of our national issues, that is the extent to which this country has had its moral compass warped by rightwing social ideologies, including the ideology of greed.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.