In recent weeks, there has been a cascade of research released on the number of Americans struggling against hunger and poverty. Digging through all the latest data sets, whether from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA-ERS), or FRAC, can be daunting.
Below is a quick summary of how anti-hunger advocates can use particular data to show policymakers what is working, and what more needs to be done. (Be sure to also check out the recording from our recent Data Webinar on this topic.)
Know the numbers. The Census Bureau’s annual report on income and poverty shows that the national poverty rate decreased from the recession high of 15.1 percent in 2010 to 13.5 percent in 2015. Mirroring this decline, the USDA-ERS’s national food insecurity research reveals that the national rate of individuals living in food insecure households dropped significantly from 15.4 percent in 2014 to 13.4 percent in 2015.
SNAP can take part of the credit for this significant progress. For struggling families and communities, SNAP is making a huge difference in their economic well-being and health. According to the Census Supplemental Poverty Measure, SNAP lifted 4.6 million people out of poverty in 2015. SNAP also is good for local economies – each dollar in federally funded SNAP benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity. Explain the many benefits of SNAP to policymakers and urge them to make this proven program stronger and more accessible, including ensuring monthly benefits more accurately reflect people’s needs.
Focus on the Children. In the wealthiest country on earth, there is no excuse that any child should struggle against hunger. According to FRAC’s latest food hardship report (pdf), 1 in 5 families with children could not afford adequate food at some points in 2015. If it weren’t for federal nutrition programs, these numbers would be even worse.
Meals provided during child care, school, after school and during the summer help ensure low-income children get the nutrition they need to support their health and learning. With the reauthorization of child nutrition programs pending, urge Congress to make these good programs even better. Show them how these programs are helping children in their own backyard.
Go Beyond the Numbers. Despite the research showing progress, more than 42.2 million Americans still struggle against hunger, and 43.1 million are still in poverty. Each and every one of them has a story to share.
Media representatives and policymakers need to understand that hunger and poverty exist in every community, in every state, and often in their own backyard. Put a face on these timely reports to shine a light on the value of federal nutrition programs and other investments critical for lifting up vulnerable populations, including:
Black and Hispanic families. Black and Hispanic-headed households experienced rates of food insecurity substantially higher than the national average, particularly for households with children. According to the Census Bureau report, 69 percent of children struggling against poverty are from these racial and ethnic groups. Geographically, cities and states with large black and Hispanic populations are ranked higher in food hardship.
Women. USDA’s food security report (pdf) shows single-parent families with children were significantly more likely to be food insecure when headed by a woman than by a man (30.3 to 22.4 percent). Economically, the poverty rate for single mothers is 28.2 percent, nearly nine percentage points higher than for single fathers.
Families in the South. Eleven of fifteen states with the worst food hardship were located in Southern states, as ranked in FRAC’s latest report. With rates exceeding 20 percent, households with children living below the Mason-Dixon line are overwhelmingly more impacted by hunger.
Push the Plan. Federal nutrition programs alone can’t solve hunger and poverty. A comprehensive approach – including higher wages, better jobs, and stronger income support programs – will go a long way in reducing the number of American households that struggle on a daily basis. Share FRAC’s A Plan of Action to End Hunger in America (pdf) with policymakers at all levels.