The Number of Hungry Americans Has Barely Fallen Since the Recession

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A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 3 2014 7:06 PM

The Number of Hungry Americans Has Barely Fallen Since the Recession

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People wait in line at the food pantry at St. Augustine's Church in New York.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Here’s your reminder that, in the United States, reigning global power, there are still millions of people who have trouble getting enough to eat.

Each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture produces a report on hunger in the U.S. And much like the poverty rate, the fraction of Americans who have difficulty putting meals on the table has stayed stubbornly high since the recession. The latest version finds that for six straight years now, more than 14 percent of households have suffered from “food insecurity”—meaning that they had at least some problems affording food but didn’t necessarily go hungry. Over that time, however, more than 5 percent suffered “very low food security”—meaning someone in the home either had to eat less than they wanted or skipped meals entirely. Those households facing actual hunger included 17.1 million people in 2013, barely changed since 2008, when the number skyrocketed to about 17.3 million thanks to the recession.

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The good news about food insecurity in the U.S., insofar as there is any, is that it’s rarely chronic. Poor families often have trouble buying food during a particularly lean time of the year, or at the end of a month, when their food stamp benefits tend to run low. But most of the time, they’re able to feed themselves. On a given day, only an estimated 1.1 percent of households actually have to cut back on their food.

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Still, that makes it no less a shame that so many families face the threat of hunger in a country this rich.

Jordan Weissmann is Slate's senior business and economics correspondent.

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