The real face of hunger in working America

Dan, who lives with his family in Massachusetts, uses a local food bank in the Feeding America network. Over half the people who visited food banks in the Feeding America network in 2013 lived in households where at least one person was working. Households with children were even more likely to have one employed member (71 percent). Photo: Feeding America

Think US food banks only serve the homeless and unemployed? Think again.

Hunger is a reality for millions of Americans every year. Some turn to the government for food assistance; some turn to private food charities. And while many of us think of those using food banks as destitute or homeless, the reality is different.

A new report released today from Oxfam America and Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, takes a closer look at the 46 million people who relied on Feeding America’s food banks and pantries in 2013. Among the findings:

  • Fifty-four percent of all households seeking food assistance report having at least one member that has worked for pay in the past 12 months.
  • Households with children are even more likely to have at least one employed member in the past year (71 percent).
  • The majority of client households with employment subsist on minimal incomes, with 89 percent reporting an annual household income of $30,000 or less.
  • Sixty-nine percent of working client households live at or below the federal poverty line (in 2013, $23,550 for a family of four, $19,530 for a family of three).

What’s more, these working families are not turning to food banks only in emergencies: most report depending on the local food pantry as part of their regular survival strategy. Most face wrenching choices between paying for food and heating their home, buying medicine for a family member, or making the mortgage payment.

As Oxfam’s Mary Babic noted in a recent blog post, hunger in the US is rarely due to a lack of food, but to a combination of limited income, underemployment, and competing household expenses. So in addition to providing services to the hungry, we need to tackle the underlying causes.

“Although charitable feeding programs and government both play a vital role in supporting struggling Americans, they cannot be the long-term answer to hunger in the United States, particularly among those who work day in and day out for a meager living. We need to address the wages that these people earn,” wrote Babic.

“Oxfam believes that a good start is to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 since 2007, when it was last raised. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would benefit more than 25 million workers, including nine million parents and more than 15 million children.”

Want to learn more? Read “From Paycheck to Pantry: Hunger in Working America.”

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