Posts Tagged ‘food insecurity’

hunger

For those who remain skeptical, Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that only Black lives matter. The movement represents the idea that, if Black lives don’t matter—because of police violence, COVID infections and deaths, unemployment, and much else—then all lives are diminished by the existing set of economic and social institutions.

Much the same holds for food insufficiency or hunger. If right now, in the midst of the pandemic, Black households are suffering more from a lack of food than Whites, then something is systemically wrong—American society is not treating all lives in a fair and humane manner.

It’s as if someone had a knee to their throats, not allowing them to eat.

But, of course, that’s not how racial capitalism works. There’s plenty of food to be had and no one is standing at the door of the grocery store or supermarket preventing them from entering. But people only get to eat a sufficient amount if they have the money to purchase the food. And if they lose their jobs or have their hours shortened or are faced with a pay cut, then their incomes aren’t enough to pay for the commodities they need, including food. They have to go without. So, if working-class Blacks (and Hispanics and others) are the last ones hired and the first hired, or they’re attempting to make do with whatever low-paying jobs are available, then they and their families go hungry.

So, what do the data show?

The chart at the top of the post shows how widespread and unequal hunger is in the United States. According to the information from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Surveys, comparing the situation from before the novel coronavirus pandemic (prior to 13 March 2020) and now (between 18 and 23 June 2020), overall food insufficiency has grown from an already-high 7.6 percent to 9.5 percent.* But the rates are much worse for Black Americans—both before the pandemic, when it was 16.5 percent, and more recently, when it has risen to 18.5 percent—as well as Hispanics—12.8 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively.

hunger-children

The situation is even more dire when we consider households with children, as indicated in the chart above. Overall, food insufficiency in such households has risen during the pandemic from 10.2 percent to 12.3 percent. But the rate for Blacks, which suffered from hunger at more than 3 times the rate of Whites before the pandemic, is now 20.5 percent. The rate for Hispanic households, which was already high, remains around 15 percent.**

Clearly, Black lives don’t matter in the United States when it comes to food sufficiency. They didn’t matter before the COVID crisis, and they matter even less now.

 

Transforming American society in the name of “liberty, justice, and freedom” means many things in this moment—including tackling the problem of hunger.

 

*In order to work with the questions in the Census Bureau survey, I define food insufficiency or hunger as the sum of responses of “sometimes not enough to eat” and “often not enough to eat.”

**If I include the third response, “enough food, but not always the types wanted”—and therefore add to the other answers the Census Bureau’s equivalent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of low food security (“reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake”)—the rates soar. White households with children are experiencing a rate of food insecurity (as against hunger or food insufficiency, in the way I’ve used it in the text) of 40.5 percent. For Black households it’s 58 percent, and, in the case of Hispanic households, 58.8 percent.

5-13-20faf1

Tens of of American workers have been assaulted by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with mass layoffs, furloughs, shortened hours, and pay cuts. As a result, food insecurity has risen dramatically in the United States. In a national survey with responses from late April, 28 percent of households reported they worried about food running out before they had money to buy more, while 22 percent of households said the food they bought didn’t last and they didn’t have enough money to get more.

It should come as no surprise that, in the United States, the rates of job losses and food insecurity differ according to race and ethnicity.

Black and Latino workers, for example, experienced larger employment declines than white workers between February and April. A Washington Post-Ipsos national poll from late April and early May found that 20 percent of Hispanic adults and 16 percent of Black adults reported being laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, compared to 11 percent of white adults and 12 percent of adults of other races and ethnicities.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, similar differences can be seen in the degree of food insecurity. While 22 percent of households said the food they bought didn’t last and they didn’t have enough money to get more, the rate was substantially higher for Black (29 percent) and Hispanic respondents (34 percent) and lower for whites (18 percent).

robrogers

Special mention

flooded-with-unemployment-claims  4852

foodpantryws1

Right now, lots of people—especially young people—don’t believe in capitalism. And so Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan takes it upon himself to make the counter-argument, that capitalism is actually good: because the “free market” fights poverty.

But it doesn’t. And it can’t.

What Mullainathan describes, when food banks bid on donations (pasta vs. fresh vegetables, for example), is not really a market. As I explained back in 2011, in discussing the work on market design by Alvin Roth and others,

what Roth and others are designing—for schools, kidneys, and so on—are not markets but something else. The nonmarket mechanisms they propose are useful precisely when markets fail or don’t exist, which is often.

In the case of food donations, what’s going on is different food banks (using a virtual currency) register their needs for different kinds of donations.

Food banks sought some items, like diapers, that “sold” at relatively high prices. Some food banks focused on bidding on these items, which had the effect of lowering the prices of staples, like produce. The neediest food banks were able to obtain these staples at bargain prices.

But that’s not a market. It’s just a way of iteratively registering (via a pseudo price mechanism) different availabilities and needs of donated food across the country.

Even if Mullainathan and others want to call it a market, it’s certainly not an argument in favor of capitalism or the market system. As classically defined (by, among others, Karl Polanyi), a market system is a form of social economy in which land, labor, and money have become commodified, and in which the rest of society is subject to the dictates of markets.

food-insecurity-numbers

source

It’s precisely such a market system that is responsible for creating mass poverty and hunger, in the United States and around the world. When people are forced to have the freedom to sell their ability to work and receive (if they are successful) low wages (and, when they are not successful, no wages at all), and when in turn they are forced to have the freedom to purchase food as a commodity, many of them (more than 15 percent of the U.S. population in 2014) become food insecure.* Food-insecure households are then forced to rely on federal programs (like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and, when such programs come up short, on private food banks.

So, large numbers of people find themselves in the situation where—because of poverty and food insecurity created by the market system—they need to turn to food banks in order to survive. And no story about using a “market” to allocate donations among food banks can overturn that particular economic truth.

 

*In addition, when people don’t have access to the housing commodity (including the land on which the housing is built), or when they don’t have direct access to the land commodity (especially in countries where small-scale agriculture is still the norm), then they end up living in poverty and finding themselves in a situation of food insecurity. Similarly, the existence of money as a commodity—in the form of mortgage credit, financial derivatives, and the like—has enriched a tiny group at the top and pushed many more people into poverty.

01_percent_food_insecure_households

According to a new study by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Lauren Bauer, and Greg Nantz (citations omitted),

In 2014 more than 15.3 million children—or more than one in five—lived in a food-insecure household in the United States. This is a marked increase from the years prior to the Great Recession, when an average of 12.9 million children lived in a food-insecure household. . .

After the onset of the Great Recession all household types saw sharp increases in rates of food insecurity, with households with children experiencing the largest increase. From 1998 to 2007 an average of 15.7 percent of households with children, 10.8 percent of households overall, and 6 percent of households with seniors were food insecure. The average from 2008 to 2014 was roughly 4 percentage points higher for households overall and for households with children, and about 2 percentage points higher for households with seniors. These changes amount to millions more Americans living in food-insecure households. Despite recent improvements in the economy, food insecurity rates are still higher than they were prior to the Great Recession, potentially reflecting higher rates of poverty and increased costs of other necessities such as housing.

It’s been a spectacular recovery from the Great Recession for a tiny group at the top. For millions of the nation’s children and working-class families, well, it’s meant something quite different—including a great deal of food insecurity.

172678_600

Special mention

huck4decCOLOR 2693

food insecurity

According to the United States Department of Agriculture [pdf], the percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure remained essentially unchanged from 2012 to 2013 (14.5 and 14.3 percent, respectively)—and there has been only a slight cumulative decrease from 2011 (when the percentage of food insecure households stood at 14.9 percent).

In 2013, 5.6 percent of U.S. households (6.8 million households) had very low food security, essentially unchanged from 5.7 percent in 2011 and 2012. In this more severe range of food insecurity, the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year due to limited resources.

Clearly, the people in food-insecure households are experiencing no recovery from the ongoing economic crises.

o-HUNGER-570

source

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, even as the unemployment rate continued to fall, fully 14.5 percent of U.S. households (17.6 million, or 49 million people) suffered from food insecurity at some time during 2012, a figure that was essentially unchanged from 14.9 percent in 2011.The prevalence of food insecurity declined from 11.9 percent of households in 2004 to 11.0 percent in 2005 and remained near that level until 2007. In 2008, the prevalence of food insecurity increased to 14.6 percent of households and was essentially unchanged at that level through 2012 (14.5 percent).

According to a new report from Feeding America [pdf], which provides food for 15.5 million households (or 46.5 million people) nationwide,

  • More than 12 million households are forced to eat unhealthy food because they can’t afford better-quality groceries. They risk adverse health effects that can make their financial plight worse.
  • 66 percent of households said they’ve had to choose between paying for food and paying for medicine or medical care. Thirty-one percent said they had to make that choice every month.
  • 69 percent of households that rely on food charities to survive have been forced to choose between paying for utilities and paying for food.

Put in terms any mainstream economist would understand: the supply of food-insecure households in the United States creates a high level of demand for federal programs like the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and for the 58,000 food programs associated with Feeding America.

And still it’s not enough.

147828_600

Special mention

147917_600 TMSWasserman0430_t607

296Hunger0405

As the Washington Post explains,

A problem known as “food insecurity” — a lack of nutritional food — is not typically associated with U.S. college students. But it is increasingly on the radar of administrators, who report seeing more hungry students, especially at schools that enroll a high percentage of youths who are from low-income families or are the first generation to attend college.

At the same time that higher education is seen as key to financial security, tuition and living expenses are rising astronomically, making it all the more tempting for students to cut corners on food.

“Between paying rent, paying utilities and then trying to buy food, that’s where we see the most insecurity because that’s the most flexible,” said Monica Gray, director of programs at the College Success Foundation-District of Columbia, which helps low-income high school students go to college.

As campuses look for solutions, the number of university food pantries has shot up, from four in 2008 to 121 today, according to the Michigan State University Student Food Bank, which has advised other campuses on starting them. Trinity Washington University in the District opened one in September, and the University of Maryland at College Park is looking into opening one.

Update

Apparently, even star “student-athletes”—such as the University of Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier—are going hungry.

Napier recently called the Northwestern union ruling “kind of great” and said that although he appreciates his basketball scholarship, it doesn’t cover all of his expenses.

“I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving,” he said.

Asked whether he felt like an employee — a key distinction cited in the labor board’s Northwestern ruling — the Huskies point guard responded, “I just feel like a student-athlete, and sometimes, like I said, there’s hungry nights and I’m not able to eat and I still got to play up to my capabilities. … When you see your jersey getting sold — it may not have your last name on it — but when you see your jersey getting sold and things like that, you feel like you want something in return.”