The first line of the USDA’s latest analysis on food insecurity in America classically downplays one of America’s most chronic and under addressed problems: “Most U.S. households have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living—they are food secure,” it reads. “But some households experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning their access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.”
That should sound familiar because it’s similar to the stance the agency took last year. The reality is there hasn’t been any real substantial progress on food insecurity in the United States for many years. “Some households” is actually 15 million American households in 2017. That’s means roughly 12% of the population where “access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.”
Hunger affects just about everything in people’s lives from overall health, to work performance, to mood, and among children the ability to grown and learn at the same rate as their peers. But while the federal government’s latest findings point out that this year’s reduction of food insecurity is statistically significant, the better question is: Compared to what?
Technically, the rate decreased from 12.3% of the population to 11.8%. In 2016, however, the decline wasn’t even great enough to meet that statistically significant threshold. More importantly, the current number of people suffering is still higher than pre-recession years, when it was already a massive chronic problem, hovering at about 11.1% in 2007.
Those suffering “very low food security”—the point at which you’re not only eating nutritionally inadequate food, but rationing it in ways that disrupt normal eating is reportedly “down significantly” from the post-recession, at least in numeric terms. It reached 5.7% a few years ago and now sits at 4.5%. That is still above the pre-recession level of 4.1%, which was both annually consistent and consistently awful.
More importantly, the rate of households with children suffering food insecurity hasn’t changed at all in recent years. Single women with children account for nearly a third of all of those reporting insecurity. And black and Hispanic people report far higher instances than their white counterparts.
At the same time, the rate of people accepting use food stamp programs like SNAP, WIC, or The National School Lunch program hasn’t changed much in recent years. About 60% of those who are eligible opt-in. Those numbers will likely decline in the coming years. As The New York Times reported, the Trump Administration recently pushed the State Department to revise its Foreign Affairs Manual in January to make the consideration of whether someone who comes to this country may become “a burden for taxpayers” part of the citizenship process.
According to the National Immigration Law Center, undocumented immigrants haven’t ever been eligible for food stamps and most adults who apply must show they’ve been legally residing here for at least five years. But because that exact definition of what being a burden means is unclear, many supplemental food agencies are seeing drops in enrollment as immigrants pull out of government programs for fear of being deported.
Under then-governor Mike Pence in 2014, Indiana changed its process to require proof of citizenship or legal residency status for WIC assistance only to see the number of mothers receiving assistance drop dramatically. That state is now one of 11 states (most of which are in the South), to see an increase in this problem over recent years.