Going Hungry: Nearly One in Five Americans Has Been Short of Money for Food in the Past Year
Nearly one in five Americans has not had enough money to buy the food they needed in the past year, a Gallup poll finds. But there are wide disparities from state to state and regionally. In North Dakota, just 9.6 percent of people have lacked enough money for food.
But if you live in Mississippi, there's a 24.9 percent chance that sometime in the past year you haven't been able to buy the food you and your family need. If you live in Alabama, it's a 22.9 percent chance. In all, there are 15 states in which at least one in five people can't always afford enough food.
Many of these people are working. Like the New Hampshire home care worker who walks as much as an hour from appointment to appointment every day, struggling with an inconsistent paycheck and a recent loss of food stamps:
Without the food stamps, she sometimes gets groceries from food pantries, but they don’t provide much of the items she needs most. In a week, she said, she might get one package of meat, enough for a single meal. When food is low, she said, she still tries to provide for the kids.
“I’m the one that’s not eating much,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard because you get dizzy from not eating.”
Or like Cheryl Preston, of Roanoke, Virginia, who writes that since her monthly income was cut by $500, and with her husband's job not always giving him 40 hours of work a week,
There are days I have skipped meals so my husband and son will not. If they notice, I let them think I am fasting. I also water down my juice and milk so that it lasts longer.
I utilize food pantries, but it is not enough. We've had to ration our meals. On more than a few occasions, we were extremely low on food for five or six days until pay day. And, many times, by the end of the night, the amount of food we have consumed during the entirety of the day is what we used to eat in one meal.
Michelle Croy, a student teacher who is now struggling to feed her own family, writes that:
When I was a cashier at Walmart when I was younger, I would see the decisions some senior citizens had to make when it came to buying food or medicine. Their medicine often ranked first so that meant that Vienna sausages and crackers sufficed for the month for sustenance.
At the other end of the age range, many people who can't afford enough food have kids, and that's reflected in the classroom. Three out of five public school teachers say they see kids coming to school hungry, and many teachers report buying food for their students. The hunger situation may get worse in coming months, with food prices expected to rise due to the drought.
Conservative responses to information like this tend to fall along a few predictable tracks. There's the "beans and rice are cheap" argument—if you're hungry, it's because you're wantonly, wastefully trying to have a varied, not totally bland diet. There's the "but I bet these supposedly broke people have a television" argument—one that ignores that, for instance, Cheryl Preston's struggles are recent. Lots of people have televisions and DVD players bought before financial problems hit (or given as gifts, or bought used and cheap).
But the argument we need to hear is that when 18.2 percent of Americans, and 24.9 percent of Mississippians, are hungry sometimes because they can't afford to eat, it's not an individual problem. It's not about household finances, it's about the organization of the national economy. Is this the economy we want, one where a majority of teachers look across the classroom at hungry kids and where mothers and grandmothers are pretending to fast so their family members will have something like enough to eat? Republicans seem to be answering yes, with their opposition to making sure work pays enough to eat by raising the minimum wage, their opposition to rewarding companies that keep jobs here, not ones that ship them overseas, and their opposition to any legislation that would create good jobs. We know how to cut down on poverty and hunger. It's just that one party is standing in the way on purpose.