Chicago food pantry.

An Elijah Pantry worker prepared food baskets for needy Chicago families on September 10, 2009. (Scott Olson / Getty )

By Frank James

Here's another sign of just how much harm the Great Recession has done to many families in the U.S. The U.S. Agriculture Department reported the percentage of families in the U.S. in 2008 nation that had trouble getting adequate food hit the highest level since the department began tracking the number in 1995.

The problem is called food insecurity which the department said reached 17 million households or 14.6 percent.

A department press release announcing the report said:

This is an increase from 13 million households, or 11.1 percent, in 2007. The 2008 figures represent the highest level observed since nationally representative food security surveys were initiated in 1995.

The report also found that one-third of food insecure households had what the agency called "very low food security" which was defined as:

... (Food intake of some household members was reduced and their eating patterns disrupted at times during the year). This is 5.7 percent of all U.S. households or about 6.7 million. This is up from 4.7 million households (4.1 percent) in 2007, and the highest level observed since nationally representative food security surveys were initiated in 1995.
Even when resources are inadequate to provide food for the entire family, children are usually shielded from the disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security. However, children as well as adults experienced instances of very low food security in 506,000 households (1.3 percent of households with children) in 2008, up from 323,000 households (0.8 percent of households with children) in 2007.

The White House reacted to the Agriculture Report with a statement from President Barack Obama:

"As American families prepare to gather for Thanksgiving, we received an unsettling report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that found that hunger rose significantly last year. This trend was already painfully clear in many communities across our nation, where food stamp applications are surging and food pantry shelves are emptying.
It is particularly troubling that there were more than 500,000 families in which a child experienced hunger multiple times over the course of the year. Our children's ability to grow, learn, and meet their full potential -- and therefore our future competitiveness as a nation -- depends on regular access to healthy meals.
My Administration is committed to reversing the trend of rising hunger. The first task is to restore job growth, which will help relieve the economic pressures that make it difficult for parents to put a square meal on the table each day. But we are also taking targeted steps to prevent Americans from experiencing hunger. Earlier this year, we extended help to those hit hardest by this economic downturn by boosting SNAP benefits. And Secretary Vilsack is working hard to make sure eligible families are able to access those benefits as well as the School Lunch and Breakfast Program. In addition, a bill I signed into law last month invests $85 million in new strategies to prevent children from experiencing hunger in the summer.

Among the disturbing facts in the report is that after the 2001 recession, high levels of food insecurity continued for three years.

Meanwhile, the head of the Food Research Action Clearinghouse, one of the leading anti-hunger organizations, said the numbers are likely worse now than they were last year.

An excerpt from Jim Weill, FRAC's president:

"As the recession hit, the number of Americans in households struggling against hunger skyrocketed to one in six last year, and it's likely that the number is even higher today. Millions have lost jobs or seen their wages reduced over the past two years. While many more people are turning to the federal nutrition programs for help, those programs don't reach enough people and their benefits often aren't enough to stop hunger," said Jim Weill, FRAC president.

"Particularly troubling is the increase among children. According to the report, one in four children lived in households struggling with hunger. President Obama has made it a goal to end childhood hunger by 2015, and these numbers highlight the urgency of dramatic action to achieve this goal," said Weill. "A strong economy, better wages, better income supports, and stronger SNAP/Food Stamp and child nutrition programs are the key steps."

categories: Food

5:40 - November 16, 2009