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4 Desperate Ways the Hardest Hit Are Coping with Economic Crisis

People have to make difficult choices during tough economic times. Here are four frightening ways people are coping with the ongoing recession.

As the economy continues to tank in the wake of congressional budget showdowns and stock market crashes, stories of those hardest hit remain hidden from view. The unemployed and underemployed, the homeless and the hungry have all been relegated to the back pages of our local newspapers; that is, if they are reported on at all.

As America's economic disaster continues its destructive rampage throughout our communities, leaving behind record levels of unemployment, home foreclosures, mounting debt and unaffordable bills, how are those on the edge of the economy coping? 

1) Skipping Meals: Not Just for Adults Anymore

According to figures released by the USDA in 2009,  17.4 million  American households (14.7 percent) are "food insecure,” which is the highest recorded rate since surveys were first conducted in 1995. As a result,  97 percent  of adults in these households report cutting back or skipping meals to ensure there is enough for their kids to eat. Twenty-eight percent have even given up eating for an entire day.

Nadja Brickle, 22, a West Philadelphia mother of three, told the  Philadelphia Inquirer  that she frequently skips meals so that her kids can eat. "Most people don't know what it feels like to have your stomach completely empty and to make and smell food you won't be eating. And then, they're not satisfied 'cause it's not enough food for them. And you're still hungry,” said Brickle.

Nevertheless, 17.2 million American children face the threat of hunger, which is the highest number ever recorded since officials started keeping track in the ‘90s. That is one in four kids who don’t have enough to eat and are at risk of going hungry. According to emergency room doctors in cities around the country, this is leading to a dramatic spike in malnourishment in babies.

The Boston Globe  recently reported on shocking levels of infant malnourishment in Massachusetts. Doctors at the Boston Medical Center (BMC) report seeing “more hungry and dangerously thin young children in the emergency room than at any time in more than a decade of surveying families.”  And Boston is not alone.  Pediatricians in other large cities, including Baltimore, Little Rock, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, have also seen a rise in infant malnourishment since 2008.

Although Massachusetts has experienced a sharp growth in the number of families that rely on food stamps, BMC doctors told the Globe that “many families are unable to afford enough healthy food to feed their children,” indicating that government programs may be inadequate for families struggling to feed their kids. They also warn that “rising chronic hunger threatens to leave scores of infants and toddlers with lasting learning and developmental problems.” The Globe even likened child malnourishment and hunger among Boston’s poor to levels seen in the "developing world." 

Back in April, when President Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to cut $500 million from WIC, doctors Maureen Black and David Paige cautioned that this would “push the nation's fiscal concerns onto the shoulders of babies.” It turns out that their warnings were quite literal. 

2) Doubling Up and Overcrowding

One way people are coping with challenging economic circumstances is by combining households, which is commonly referred to as “doubling up” or overcrowding. Thanks to millions of foreclosures coupled with record unemployment, countless American families have been forced to move in with family, friends or strangers.  

While statistics on overcrowding are hard to come by, a  study last year sponsored by the Research Institute for Housing America (RIHA) found there has been a  five-fold increase  in overcrowding since the start of the recession.  They define overcrowding as “more than one person per room.”

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