Number of Hungry and Food Insecure Americans Jumps to 38 Million in 2004
Fifth Straight Annual Increase and Biggest Rise Since 2000
WASHINGTON, DC – The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) announced today that a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report based on Census Bureau surveys shows the fifth consecutive annual increase—and by far the worst increase since 2000—in the number of food insecure Americans—people living in households suffering from hunger without resources to purchase an adequate diet. The total number of people living in food insecure households in this country went up to 38.2 million in 2004. This number included 24.3 million adults (11.3 percent of all adults) and 13.9 million children (19 percent of all children.)
This number grew by nearly two million in 2004 and has grown by seven million in five years. It compares to 36.3 million in 2003, 34.9 million in 2002, 33.6 million in 2001, 33.2 million in 2000, and 31 million in 1999. 11.9 percent of US households (13.5 million households) experienced either food insecurity or hunger in 2004. 10.7 million of these individuals lived in households that experienced outright hunger.
“Today the House Agriculture Committee is ‘marking up’ a bill that would make $844 million in food stamp cuts on the same day that the Census Bureau and USDA tell us that hunger in America has grown for five years straight and the problem seems to be growing faster. It is hard to imagine any Congressional action more detached from reality,” said James D. Weill, FRAC President.
“After Katrina struck, the President spoke clearly about our nation’s obligation to address poverty and the deprivation it causes. If he meant this seriously, he must speak now on how he will attack hunger in America, and he must speak out against Congressional action that will further impoverish low-income Americans, including Katrina victims.”
Black (23.7 percent) and Hispanic (21.7 percent) households experienced food insecurity at approximately double the national average.
The USDA report also included food insecurity and hunger rates for every state, based on three-year averages. (The analysis uses three-year averages because the survey sample size for each state is too small to give accurate numbers for each individual year.) The ten states with the highest food insecurity rates, in order, were Texas, New Mexico, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, South Carolina, Arkansas, Idaho, North Carolina, and Arizona, all with rates at or above 12.7 percent of households.
“Almost certainly the key cause of the worsening of the situation from 1999 to 2004 was weakness in the economy for the bottom half of Americans–wage stagnation, joblessness, underemployment, and prices for health care, energy and other essentials rising faster than inflation,” said Weill. “Family incomes fell and poverty rose in 2004. The worsening rates really reflect the growing inequality of income in the country, the growing economic insecurity for the bottom third of Americans, and the harmful holes in the safety net.”
The federal nutrition programs are keeping the food insecurity numbers from getting even worse. But the very high levels of hunger and food insecurity in this country also point to the still inadequate reach of key supports like food stamps (which reach only 56 percent of eligible people), child nutrition programs, TANF, unemployment, and health insurance, as well as the problem of stagnant wages and shrinking workplace benefits.
“Food insecurity and hunger have gone up for virtually every region of the country and every type of household,” said Lynn Parker, FRAC's Director of Child Nutrition. “This increase in hunger and food insecurity will mean more children who have trouble at school, more illness among children and adults, and less ability to purchase a balanced and nutritious diet.”
Inadequate family resources lie at the heart of the matter. As the USDA study shows, food secure households typically spent 31 percent more for food than food insecure households of the same size and household composition.
Since 1995, the United States Department of Agriculture, using data from surveys conducted annually by the Census Bureau, has released estimates of the number of households that are food insecure--broken into “food insecure with hunger” and “food insecure without hunger.” Food insecure households are those that are not able, for financial reasons, to access a sufficient diet at all times in the past 12 months. Households labeled hungry are those where one or more household members experienced hunger due to lack of financial resources at some time in the past 12 months. The Census/USDA definitions are rigorous and assure that only those experiencing substantial hunger or food insecurity without hunger are so classified.
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The Food Research and Action Center (www.frac.org) is the leading national organization working for more effective public and private policies to eradicate domestic hunger and undernutrition.
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