“The economy has experienced an unusually slow recovery since the deep recession in 2008 and 2009. The nation’s poverty rate reached 15.1 percent in 2010, the highest rate since 1993. The poverty rate remained at 15 percent in 2012 with 46.5 million people living in poverty. This is the largest number living in poverty since statistics were first published more than 50 years ago.
“Sustained high poverty rates arise in part from high unemployment and falling household incomes. The US unemployment rate exceeded 7 percent for five years between late 2008 and late 2013 (about 11 million people in any given month), the longest period of high unemployment in 70 years.
“While the unemployment rate indicates that a large number of people cannot find jobs, many others are employed part-time because they cannot find full-time work or have dropped out of the labor force after a long and unsuccessful job search. The government’s measure of underemployment that includes all of these groups averaged 14 percent in fiscal year 2013, compared with a pre-recession rate of 8 percent in 2007.
“On average, about 24 million people were underemployed in 2013. Additionally, others may work full-time but, because of low wages, their earnings do not lift them above the poverty level.
“Perhaps not surprisingly, real household income dropped 8 percent between 2007 and 2012. Poverty, unemployment, and income, along with other demographic characteristics, are key drivers of individual and household food insecurity across the country.
“These economic trends have contributed to rapid growth in the numbers of households seeking and receiving federal food assistance. The number of people participating in SNAP, the largest federal food assistance program, rose to a new high of 47.6 million in 2013, up from 33.5 million in 2009.
“While some of this growth can be attributed to changes in SNAP program rules, recent studies conclude that the weak economy explains most of the increase. Other government programs that provided nutrition assistance in 2013 also saw high enrollment levels. About 9 million people received WIC benefits in 2013. In the same year, more than 5 million children received free or reduced-price school lunches, and under the School Breakfast Program, 2.2 million children received school breakfasts (10).
“The increased need for food assistance observed within federal nutrition programs is mirrored in the number of clients seeking help from the charitable food assistance network. Despite known undercounts of those seeking charitable help, government studies have documented increases in the number of individuals getting help from food pantries and emergency meal programs in 2012 compared with 2010.
“Feeding America, as the nation’s largest charitable food assistance organization, plays a critical role in helping those in need access nutritious food for themselves and their families.”
This was an excerpt from the Hunger in America study, the largest study of charitable food assistance in America. To read the full report, as well as Vermont-specific findings, visit our website.
(10) Program data from www.fns.usda.gov.