In every corner of America today, families are experiencing food insecurity. Defined as the inability to consistently afford enough food for a healthy life, food insecurity affects more than 37 million people. The struggle against hunger affects people in rural areas more predominantly, and the food insecurity rate is also significantly higher in households with children — with nearly 14 percent of families with children facing hunger, versus households without children at about 10 percent. Let’s take a look at four major causes of food insecurity.
The link between poverty and food insecurity is clear, and roughly 12 percent of Americans currently live in poverty. Data shows declining rates of health insurance coverage among people living in poverty, and suggests that increases in uninsured health costs result in a lack of resources for other important costs like rent and healthy food.
Wage stagnation is an important factor that can contribute to an increase in food insecurity. Despite America’s record low unemployment numbers, wage growth has been lagging for decades. After adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. And although minimum wage laws have recently seen significant bumps in some states, including here in New York, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 hasn’t changed in more than a decade. It isn’t difficult to see how living on minimum wage earnings can pose a challenge for people and increase their risk of food insecurity.
Another cause of food insecurity is an unforeseen hardship that takes a toll on personal finances, including anything from car trouble costs to an illness in the family. Recent research found that 78 percent of U.S. workers are living paycheck to paycheck, which makes it easy to see how unexpected bills can quickly throw many into financial hardship and food insecurity.
Another factor that can play a part in food insecurity is a high cost of living, especially if you reside in one of the most expensive states: Hawaii, California, New York, Massachusetts and Maryland round out the top five. Contributing to the high cost of living are increases in fixed expenses. For instance, the national average cost of child care for one child was around $9,300 annually in 2017, an increase of more than 7 percent on the year.
To reduce hunger throughout America, action must be taken at both national and local levels. At Feeding Westchester, we do everything within our power to fight food insecurity within Westchester County, where one in five residents faces hunger. In 2019 alone, we delivered more than 10.4 million pounds of food to those in need — which is equivalent to nearly 8.6 million meals!
We’re committed to giving people access to the healthy whole foods they need to thrive, and we feed hungry people with 4.5 million pounds of produce annually. Feeding Westchester is also dedicated to salvaging perfectly good food that would otherwise go to waste through our food recovery program, and we work with more than 80 partners to recover over 4.5 million pounds of quality food that would otherwise be placed in the landfill.
Food-insecure people often face significant health challenges, including having less access to health care, fewer available resources that promote health and well-being, and harmful environmental threats such as poor water quality. Feeding Westchester takes a steadfast approach to doing more than simply providing the next meal for our hungry neighbors. We offer programs and resources that give people the tools they need to succeed in all areas of their lives, such as providing health-screening opportunities for chronic diseases and hosting food education classes, which teach people how to shop, cook and eat on a budget.
We proudly cater to hungry children and seniors through a number of initiatives. Our BackPack program provides more than 50,000 packs of nutritious food to kids annually, while our Senior Grocery program promotes independent living by delivering healthy food options directly to seniors. Feeding Westchester also provides support for federal hunger relief programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which lifted more than 3 million people out of poverty in 2018.
No matter where you live, you can help in the fight against hunger. Here are five ways that you can make an impact:
Nonprofits are able to buy food wholesale/in bulk and partner with other agencies and businesses to get the most out of each dollar.
Collect canned foods and cash donations by hosting a food drive at your place of work, church, school or community center.
When children are food insecure, their development can suffer. Start the conversation about reducing hunger at schools near you by contacting local school administrators. See what food assistance programs are already in place and encourage their participation in federal initiatives like the School Breakfast Program.
Knowledge is power, and the more that people are educated about hunger in America, the more likely they are to be part of the solution. Spread the word about food insecurity by sharing information with your followers on social media, via email and by posting educational flyers on community bulletins.
Here are a few great resources to reference:
Taking time out of your busy schedule to volunteer with a hunger relief organization is a wonderful way to make an impact. If you aren’t familiar with volunteer options near you, find your perfect fit via VolunteerMatch.
Here at Feeding Westchester, we rely on the vital work of our volunteers to aid in the fight against hunger. In fact, community members volunteer 40,000 hours of their time with us annually. Find out more about volunteer opportunities at Feeding Westchester and get involved today.