Hawaiian residents report low meals insecurity charges, however actuality could be very totally different
According to federal statistics, fewer Americans are starving than ever since 2007. But local anti-hunger organizations say the data doesn’t tell the full story.
Households that have reliable access to enough food to support an active, healthy lifestyle are rated “food safe” by the US Department of Agriculture. The agency measures food security through survey questions that cover concerns about both the amount and quality of food a household can afford.
In the latest survey, just over 11 percent of US households were rated as unsafe, meaning there were concerns about being able to afford enough food for at least part of the year.
It is the lowest rate since 2007. During the Great Recession of 2008, food insecurity rose and declined slowly in more than 14 percent of US households. In 2018, the measure reached the pre-recession level for the first time.
That is to be expected, says Alisha Coleman-Jensen, an analyst at the USDA’s Economic Research Service. The agency identified low incomes as the main cause of hunger.
“Food insecurity is closely related to economic resources. We know that poverty and low income are a major factor and we are seeing much higher food insecurity rates for low income households, ”said Coleman-Jensen.
This is reflected in the larger proportion of low-income households reporting as being unsafe about nutrition, 35 percent versus the national average of 11 percent.
Hawaiian residents reported one of the lowest rates of inadequate nutrition in the country, with only 8% of households classified as unsafe about diet. That was higher than just New Hampshire, at 7.8 percent. New Mexico had the highest rate, with 17 percent of households reporting they didn’t have enough to eat.
But Hawaii’s encouraging statistics might hide a more troubling reality, according to local nonprofits working to reduce hunger. Ron Mizutani, CEO of the Foodbank of Hawaii, says federal statistics don’t reflect the demand for the foodbank’s services he sees on a daily basis.
“We continued to see an enormous amount of food coming out the door every day. About a million pounds of food every single month. We’re going for the number 1 out of 8, and that’s based on what we’re seeing from our partner sales agencies, and those numbers have not gone down, ”said Mizutani.
1 in 8 people work with a household ratio of over 12 percent, which is above the national average and in the top half of the US states. It’s also 60 percent higher than the USDA estimate for Hawaii.
Mizutani cites the survey questions as a possible source of error. He believes the questions may not accurately account for social practices in Hawaii, such as multi-generational living, that are less common in mainland states.
The Federal Government has been collecting survey data on food insecurity since 1995. During this time, the rate has never fallen below 10 percent of US households.
Anti-hunger activist and author Andy Fisher has written several books on the subject, including his most recent Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance Between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups.
He argues that there are many reasons Americans continue to experience food insecurity: businesses that benefit from federal food aid programs, improper influence of private interests over the operation of food banks, and the failure of anti-hunger groups to sign up for broader economic programs like the Increase to engage the minimum wage.
“The purchasing power of the minimum wage peaked in 1968. The minimum wage in Hawaii is $ 10.10 an hour. It is these low wages that are causing food insecurity to stagnate, ”Fisher said.
The USDA report suggests that only 56 percent of households classified as food insecure also participate in one of the federal government’s top three nutritional aid programs: SNAP, WIC, and the National School Lunch program.
This could be a reporting error, but it can also indicate that many people struggling with food security are not eligible for federal aid programs. USDA analyst Coleman-Jensen pointed out that the eligibility requirements for the largest program, commonly known as grocery stamps, don’t take into account large expenses like medical bills or elderly care.
Such expenses are an effective reduction in the payer’s income. If low income is the main cause of food insecurity, as the USDA believes, thousands of households could fall into a gray area where they are not eligible for assistance but lack the resources to ensure year-round food security.
Andy Fisher will be speaking on Thursday, September 12th at 6:30 pm on the University of Hawaii Manoa campus. The lecture is free and public. Details can be found here.