Responding to Rising Hunger
This article originally appeared in the January 2010 Newsletter.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently reported that in 2008, one in seven U.S. households (14.6 percent) had trouble putting food on the table, up from 11.1 percent in 2007. The 3.5 percentage point jump is the largest one-year increase since USDA began publishing this data.
There is every reason to believe that hunger has continued to increase through 2009. As of September 2009, more than 37 million people—about one in eight Americans—were receiving SNAP benefits. This is the tenth straight month of record highs, and participation continues to rise.
Children are faring worst. USDA reported that 22.5 percent of children live in families that are struggling to get enough to eat. “What should really shock us is that almost one in four children in our country lives on the brink of hunger,” said Bread for the World President David Beckmann. Childhood hunger is not just a phenomenon of the current recession. Since the beginning of the recession, 4 million additional children are living in families struggling to put food on the table—but well over 12 million children lived in such families before the recession began.
“Unless we take the necessary steps, kids will continue to suffer after the economy recovers. We need to make significant progress when Congress renews child nutrition programs this year,” Beckmann said. He cited a recent study that estimated that nearly half of all children—and 90 percent of African-American children—will participate in SNAP at some point before the age of 20.
Around the world as in the United States, poor people have been hit hardest by the recession. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported during World Food Day, October 16, 2009, that more than 1 billion people were experiencing chronic hunger. Hunger is causing lifelong, irreversible damage to the infants and toddlers included in that figure.
In an interview aired on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, Beckmann said that although there has been an alarming setback, the world is still making progress against hunger and can regain its momentum.
“We used to have a billion hungry people out of a world population of 4 billion. Now we have a billion hungry people in a world of 7 billion,” he told listeners of the nationally syndicated radio program.
“We know how to make progress against hunger. One key thing is to put more of our foreign aid dollars into agriculture. That’s an area that has been increasingly neglected since the 1980s. We can no longer be complacent about cheap food prices—rather, we must invest in producing more and better food,” he said.