Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hungry and Poor in America: Let's Finish the Job Here

The local news was replete with images of First Lady Michelle Obama in the elegant, strapless designer gown she wore for this White House's first state dinner.

Don't get me wrong, I like to look at gowns by Naeem Khan as much as anyone, but as we edge closer to that holiday most often associated with abundance, and overindulgence, one can't help but be distracted by the equally stunning number of people who find themselves hungry and poor this Thanksgiving.

More than 12% of all Americans know what it means to be poor in America. While they're conspicuously absent from reality T.V. shows, from box office movies, and political party platforms, they are increasingly visible at food banks, and shelters.

Nearly 50% of children in the U.S. will be on food stamps at some point before they reach adulthood as reported in study published by the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The research extends over a three decade period, and also shows that one in three white children, and 90% of African-American youngsters through age 20 will make use of federally subsidized food programs.

A staggering 50% of all Americans between 20 and 65 (4 out of every 10 adults in America) will use food stamps in their lifetimes. 85% of African-Americans will, at some point in their lives, need to use food stamps. African-Americans and Hispanics make up the leading groups of those experiencing the most egregious food deprivation.

In 2008 alone, according to Feeding America, the number of poor Americans grew to:

40 million, or 13% of all Americans
8 million families, or 10%,
22 million, or nearly 12%, of people between 18-64
14 million, or nearly 20%, of children under 18

Last year, too, 49 million people didn't have enough to eat (32 million adults and 17 million children). A disproportionate number of those are men, women, and children of color.

The number of households with inadequate food resources has increased by 3.5% from 2007-2008 alone.

Nearly 10% of households with seniors were food insecure.
3.6 million seniors, 65 and older, nearly one in ten, live in poverty

In 2002, 35 million people went hungry, a number that has increased by 50% in the past seven years.

Last year, 4% of all U.S. households, nearly 5 million Americans, accessed emergency food from a food pantry one or more times.

In 2008, too, more than 50% of all households experiencing hunger participated in one of the major federal food assistance programs, but that's not enough. Instead of the trillions of dollars this administration has committed to buying drones, building embassies in Iraq, and sending thousands of more servicemen and women into combat, we need to fight the war on poverty here at home.

An astonishing 40% of households headed by single women have food shortages.

Too often, politicians of both parties speak of the need to save the middle class, but nobody talks about the working poor. There is little mention of those who return from the battlefield only to struggle to keep their homes, their dignity, and find a way to feed their families.

Some might argue that Congress is making a good start by working to pass legislation that will enable more Americans to get affordable health insurance, but that's only a start. There is something desperately wrong with a country that provides bailouts for its banks, and its fortune 500 carpetbaggers, but cannot provide for its children and seniors.

If even half the resources the government has allocated for the war on terror were to be spent instead on a war on poverty, no child in America would go to bed hungry tonight.

And, when the president announced this week that he intends to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, clearly the job he needs to finish is here, and not in the Middle East.