America May Have the Worst Hunger Problem of Any Rich Nation

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 4 2014 12:53 PM

America May Have the Worst Hunger Problem of Any Rich Nation

Was7767055
New York City residents at the Xavier Mission food pantry.

Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

During the recession, the number of Americans threatened by hunger skyrocketed. But during the recovery, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported yesterday, the number has barely fallen. All told, the government finds that more than 14 percent of households are considered “food insecure,” meaning they at least have difficulty affording meals, and in extreme cases may go without eating.

To understand just how embarrassing America’s hunger problem is, it helps to put it in a global context. Unfortunately, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, “there are no internationally comparable statistics on food insecurity that are as detailed as those of the United States.” However, there are some useful numbers available, thanks to the researchers at Pew and Gallup who have polled citizens across the developed world about whether they can afford enough food for their families. According to Gallup’s findings, cited by the OECD, Americans are far more likely to say they were unable to pay for food than citizens of other rich countries. In 2011 and 2012, 21 percent of U.S. citizens reported food trouble, versus 8 percent of British survey takers, 6 percent of Swedes, and 5 percent of Germans. Estonia and Hungary had bigger problems with food affordability than the U.S., but both are relatively poor among developed nations.

Advertisement

The U.S. fared somewhat better by comparison in Pew's polling. In its 2013 results, 24 percent of Americans said they had difficulty affording food during the past year, only slightly worse than France (20 percent), on par with Greece (24 percent), and a little better than South Korea (26 percent). But countries like Britain, Australia, Canada, and Germany all performed much better. (Click here for an interactive version of the chart below.)

In an ideal world, we'd have more detailed statistics for each country, similar to what the USDA produces. Nonetheless, Pew and Gallup's findings suggest that the U.S. could have one of the worst hunger problems in the developed world—and among rich countries, we might have the worst of all.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 21 2014 11:38 PM “Welcome to the War of Tomorrow” How Futurama’s writers depicted asymmetrical warfare.
  Health & Science
The Good Word
Sept. 21 2014 11:44 PM Does This Name Make Me Sound High-Fat? Why it just seems so right to call a cracker “Cheez-It.”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.