5 Things You Didn’t Know About Hunger in America

Hunger is not colorblind.

Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

First off, let’s get the official definition out of the way. The National Commission on Hunger defines hunger as: when a member of a household reduces or disrupts what he or she eats because the household does not have the money or resources for food. And now on to the facts.

1. More Americans Are Hungry

In 2010, after the recession, hunger rose to 5.4 percent, and has hovered around the current 5.6 percent for years. In 2007, by contrast, just 4.1 percent of American households experienced hunger, according to a new report from the Commission. Some states, including North Dakota, have relatively low rates of hunger, while others, such as Arkansas, have rates above 8 percent. In all, nearly 7 million Americans experience hunger every year.

National Commission on Hunger

2. Hunger Is a Gateway to Other Ills

When a child is hungry, her schooling can be impacted. Hungry teens are more likely than their regularly-fed peers to contemplate suicide and have other mental-health problems. A hungry adult is more susceptible to certain health problems brought on by a lack of nutrition, which can hurt his or her ability to work. Hungry seniors are more susceptible to depression. The report suggests that if hunger were eliminated, the nation would be able to curb costs in the health care and education systems.

3. Hunger Is Not Colorblind

Predictably, houses closest to the poverty line are the most likely to go hungry. Households helmed by women are far more likely, at 12.8 percent, than homes with a male head, at 7 percent, or a married couple, at 3.2 percent, to experience hunger. Black households are more than twice as likely as white households to be hungry, with more than 10 percent of black households experiencing hunger. The hunger rate for Latino households is 6.9 percent, and it is especially high for immigrants. People in the country’s Northeast are the least likely to be hungry, while households in the South are the most likely to be hungry.

National Commission on Hunger

4. Incarceration Means Hunger

The report suggests that 90 percent of people who are released from prison experience household food insecurity. More than a third say they’ve skipped eating for an entire day because they couldn’t afford any food. Hunger doesn’t just impact a former prisoner, though; it affects his family, even while he is behind bars. Having a partner or parent in prison can throw family life into disarray and eliminate income that was previously used to purchase food. The issue can be compounded by emotional stress and trauma at losing, at least temporarily, a loved one.

5. Women May Suffer Hunger Due to Abuse

Since hunger is not an isolated issue, there are multiple ways to attack it. For example, women who have suffered domestic violence are more likely to be hungry, so reducing domestic-violence rates could help curb hunger. The commission points out the benefits of federal food assistance, particularly for women and children, but suggests that such programs should also incorporate job training and placement to help participants earn enough not to need the assistance.