NPR logo The Hankins: Crunching the Numbers

The Hankins: Crunching the Numbers

Wreatha Hankins loads a box of vegetables into a food pantry delivery truck. Wreatha and her children both help out and get help at the food pantry. Evie Stone, NPR hide caption

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Evie Stone, NPR

As part of the Hunger in America series, NPR's Howard Berkes traveled to Chilhowie, in rural southwestern Virginia, to report on the trade-offs that Robbie and Wreatha Hankins make to keep food on the table.

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Last year, the Hankins, a family of five, made about $22,000. According to the Census Bureau, that's just below the poverty line. The Census Bureau reports that the median income for a family of the same size in Virginia is $71,281.

With an income three times lower than average, the Hankins have five people to feed. And like many American families, there's an endless list of other expenses. A U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that an average American family spends 13 percent of their income on food. Accordingly, this would leave the Hankins, after taxes, with $178 for their monthly food budget. That's just a little more than a dollar a day per person.

In contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's most conservative suggested food budget, The Thrifty Food Plan, proposes that the Hankins should be spending at least $149 a week on food. The Living Wage project, based out of Penn State University, believes that number should be even higher. According to their formula, the Hankins should have a weekly food budget of $172.

In reality, the Hankins spent $145 on food last month ... or 96 cents a day per person. And that's a good month. After the mortgage, homeowner's insurance, utilities and car insurance, the family usually has about $80 a month to spend on everything else. When Wreatha gets work, that figure rises. In fact, she refers to her paychecks as the food money.