The economy is growing, but not all Americans are reaping the benefits — and many are still living in hunger.
One in 10 adults (nearly 15 million people) and one in six children in the US have gone to bed hungry at some point in the past 3 years, according to a report from anti-hunger nonprofit Hunger Free America released Wednesday.
Nearly 8 percent of older Americans (adults 60 years and older) lived in “food insecure” households during the same time period. One in 10 seniors age 60 and older rely on food stamps, a previous study from Food and Research Action Center concluded.
The Hunger Free America report examined hunger in America between the years of 2014 and 2017, when the economy was “still booming,” Joel Berg, chief executive officer of Hunger Free America said, and found that hunger rates have yet to return to pre-recession levels.
“We can only imagine how much more suffering there will be when the next inevitable recession or depression occurs if we don’t fix the structural flaws in our economy and safety net that cause such mass hunger before then,” Berg said.
The Farm Bill deal passed on Nov. 29 included continued support for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits funding, despite an original Republican push to create stricter work requirements for these.
But more funding is needed for hungry Americans to reach parity with those who aren’t struggling, the report found. Food insecure Americans would need $21.5 billion in additional food purchasing power each year to meet their basic food needs, it added.
The flat-lining of hunger rates in the US has occurred even as unemployment rates hit record lows, said Melissa Boteach, senior vice president of the Poverty to Prosperity program at the Center for American Progress. This show how wage stagnation is affecting middle and lower income Americans, she added.
Some call for an increase in states’ minimum wage
“As the economy is growing, gains are not trickling down to help everyday workers, so there are families working two or three jobs trying to keep food on the table,” she said. “Why do we have a country with a 4 percent unemployment rate where 10 percent don’t know if they can afford food? This shows a structural problem.”
The states with the highest rates of food insecure children were Arkansas (27.5 percent), New Mexico (27.1 percent), Louisiana (24.7 percent), Wyoming (22.9 percent), and Mississippi (22.1 percent). Many of these states have a low minimum wage, the study noted.
In states with a minimum wage of $10 or above, just 8.6 percent of employed adults were “food insecure” compared to 9.7 percent nationally and 9.9 percent of people in states with a minimum wage of $7.25 or below.
A rise in the federal minimum wage could be brought to the forefront after Democrats took back control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections. Missouri and Arkansas also passed ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage in the 2018 midterms.
However, the higher minimum wage movement may not gain much traction. While the House is now majority-Democrat for the first time in nearly a decade, the Republican Senate is likely to block many of their measures, Economic Policy Institute, the Washington, D.C. left-leaning think tank, said.
GOP lawmakers see the move to drive minimum wage higher as largely detrimental to low-income workers, however. They, and many small business owners, say increasing the minimum wage will deter them from hiring workers and encourages them to turn to automation instead of employees.
Still, in Arkansas, the minimum wage will rise from $8.50 an hour to $11 an hour by 2021. In Missouri, wages will increase to $12 an hour from $7.85 an hour over the next five years.
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