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Completely Unacceptable Numbers

July 30, 2010

Warning: The following Note utilizes two governmental sources for numbers concerning the participation of American citizens in various anti-poverty programs. The author apologizes for any frustration or anger generated by the uncanny inability of governmental sources to reconcile numbers. In fact, the author is frustrated and angered that highly intelligent and supposedly well-trained individuals cannot report solid numbers. Yet, everyday, at his job, he is required to.

Completely Unacceptable Numbers

On November 16, 2009 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report, Household Food Security in the United States, 2008.

On page 15 it reads: “In 2008, 49.1 million people lived in food-insecure households. They constituted 16.4 percent of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population and included 32.4 million adults and 16.7 million children. Of these individuals, 12.1 million adults and 5.2 million children lived in households with very low food security . . .”

This is a dramatic increase from the 2007 report of 12,435,000 million children – which was the number used during the Presidential campaigns.

Please note that those who worked on the report repeatedly asserted that USDA numbers EXCLUDE almost 15% of American households. In fact, the US Census Bureau counts 301,041,000 million Americans in September 2009. The USDA counts ONLY 299,567,000 million Americans two months later in November 2009. That a difference of 1,474,000 Americans. (My math is a little rusty, b.u.t., 1.5 million does not 15% make. Before posting this, I spoke to two political-minded friends: they were surprised the reports produced numbers that were THAT close!)

Since “hunger” is a subjective experience, the federal government has adopted the following definitions for “food insecure” and “very low food security” as measurements.

The USDA report on page 4 reads, “About 85 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the entire year 2008. In concept, ‘food secure’ means that all household members had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. The remaining 17 million U.S. households (14.6 percent of all households) were food insecure at some time during the year. That is, they were, at times, uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food for all household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food . . . But 6.7 million households (5.7 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security – that is, they were food insecure to the extent that eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and their food intake reduced, at least some time during the year, because they couldn’t afford enough food.”

The rule of thumb for “food insecurity” is that it attempts to describe the psychological experience of hunger. Low food security amounts to “anxiety” about food, meaning, you have to access the emergency food network (food pantries, food banks), federal programs (SNAP or food stamps, WIC, TEFAP) and carefully plan out your food purchases to maintain the “feeling” of being “full.” Consequently, persons experiencing low food security consume large quantities of poor quality food(s) in an attempt to stave off hunger. The USDA estimates 10.4 million American households fall into this category. (pg. 6)

Very low food security means you actually feel hunger pains for extended periods of time. In its survey, the USDA found 6.7 million households were classified as very low food security. Their answers capture the definition perfectly, “97 percent reported that an adult had cut the size of their meals or skipped meals because there was not enough money for food. 88 percent reported that this had occurred in 3 or more months. In 93 percent, respondents reported that they had eaten less than they felt they should because there was not enough money for food. 96 percent reported that the food they bought just did not last and they did not have the money to get more. 94 percent reported that they could not afford to eat balanced meals.” (pg. 5)

The report insists that children are protected within food insecure households. Decisions are made so that only 506,000 households suffer the sight of children crying for food.

On that point, I must shake my head. The USDA administers the National School Lunch Program. On page 28 of the report it reads: “In 2008, the program provided lunches to an average of 31 million children each school day. About half of the lunches served in 2008 were free, and an additional 10 percent were provided at reduced prices.”

Now, IF (approximately) 15.5 million meals are served at some 100,000 programs nation-wide for FREE, how are children protected from hunger within food insecure households? It appears they are being protected from hunger inside elementary school cafeterias.

According to the USDA only 4 out of 10 children who eat school lunch come from households who can afford to pay full price for a federally subsidized meal. (If that isn’t alarming – oh my goodness – I do not know what is!)

The US Census Bureau estimates that 14,068,000 children live below the poverty line. It estimates that 39.8 million Americans total are below the poverty line. (Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008, pg. 14)

Please note that 14.1 million children living below the poverty line is LESS than the number of children receiving FREE school lunches. In fact, the Census Bureau’s estimate, that 39.8 million Americans are struggling financially, is 9.3 million LESS than what the USDA reports.

Conclusion: The above reports document the past. These numbers are good for 2008, when Barack Obama and John McCain were engaged in a historical Presidential campaign. The “fact” that 14.1 – 16.7 million American children live in food insecure households is not necessarily valid today, due to the effects of the Recession, which forced an additional 1.1 million Americans into poverty between January and September 2009.

Considering the fact two major governmental agencies have such variation in reported numbers, the author of this note strongly suggest communities choose NOT to rely on governmental resources and organize themselves to feed the children in their neighborhoods.

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