TOPICS > Health

USDA: 1 in 7 U.S. Households Struggle for Food

BY Anna Shoup  November 17, 2009 at 8:44 PM EDT

Food bank in Arlington, Va., Flickr photo via Bread for the World/Creative Commons

This puts 49.1 million Americans in households that “had difficulty obtaining food for all their members due to a lack of resources,” according to the annual U.S. Department of Agriculture report. This includes 16.7 million children.

Those in the most-dire situation, classified as having “very low food security,” included 5.7 percent of U.S. households, or 12.1 million adults and 5.2 million children. In their case, eating patterns for one or more members was disrupted at times in 2008 because of the household lacked money or resources for food.

Not all household groups suffered the same; 37.2 percent of households with children headed by single women, 25.7 percent of black households and 26.9 percent of Hispanic households are considered food insecure by the USDA. And 42.2 percent of families below the poverty line also fell into that group.

On Tuesday’s NewsHour, Jeffrey Brown talked to officials from food banks in Texas and Washington, D.C., for on-the-ground perspectives on the issue:

Increasing need for food has become more commonplace during this recession, and the USDA report underscores how many have been left without something on the table. At a time when the unemployment rate is the highest it’s been in 26 years, this uptick in need is straining local food banks and setting records for distribution.

Monday’s report is no surprise to those stocking food banks around the country. In Ohio, the Cleveland food bank distributed 27 million pounds of food in its fiscal year ending in September, a 25 percent increase. Karen Pozna, the food bank’s spokeswoman told WKSU that the people who show up at the food bank for the first time come in because of unemployment but also health care concerns.

“You know people who have recently been laid off from their jobs. People who have high medical bills, having to chose between paying for medicine and paying for food,” Pozna told WKSU.

Oregon Food Bank Executive Director Rachel Bristol said that her organization is seeing increases from all parts of the state.

“Where last year, we were seeing 30- or even 40-percent increases last year, this year they went up anywhere from 10 to 20 percent. What we did see was the big surge in the Portland Metro area,” Bristol told Oregon Public Broadcasting.

The USDA report is based on survey findings from December 2008.