WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hunger in the United States of America is a strangely serious problem that is fairly unknown. The U.S. has the world’s strongest economy, with gross domestic product per capita listed as the 7th highest globally at $55,836.80, according to The World Bank. The U.S. is at the forefront of technological advancement, at the backbone of finance and at the pinnacle of higher education. Yet, the U.S. fails to feed its citizens.
One in six Americans, more than 48 million people, face hunger. About 17 million Americans and 8.2 million children live in even worse conditions, facing extremely low food security and consistently skipping meals. Hunger also affects African-Americans and Latinos more disproportionately compared to other races, according to DoSomething.org. Although starvation is not necessarily an issue in the U.S., food insecurity, as defined by the USDA as a periodic lack of food for the entire household, is widely prevalent. In other words, many Americans struggle to consistently put food on the table or must sacrifice more nutritious foods to do so.
As bad as hunger in the United States is, it is also unique to the country. Among advanced countries with gross domestic product per capita above $20,000, food insecurity is much less prevalent, according to The Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany, for example, those who cannot consistently afford food make up closer to 10 percent of the population, while in the U.S. they compose more than 20 percent pf the population. Interestingly, Americans also earn about $10,000 more than citizens of those countries.
Although millions of households cannot afford enough food, the U.S. faces no shortage of it. The nation actually wastes 40 percent of all the food it produces, about $165 billion worth. Consequently, many non-profits, such as City Harvest and Food Forward, have been launched to save food from restaurants, grocers, farms and more, delivering millions of pounds of excess food to community programs and needy families. Still, they only serve as small solutions to a problem affecting millions. What many point to as the root cause of food insecurity is poverty.
As the economy recovered from a historic recession in 2008, wealth unequally redistributed itself, entering the pockets of the wealthy. Between 2000 and 2015, “wages for the bottom 60 percent of male workers were flat or declined,” according to Ned Resnikoff of The Atlantic.
The Economic Policy Institute announced that, since 1980, low-income workers have seen their wages steadily decrease five percent. Even worse, reduced funding and new requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that impose work requirements and mandatory drug testing have reduced the number of eligible claimants.
As a result, hunger in the U.S. is only increasing. Not only have businesses failed to match workers’ wages to their increasing productivity, but the government has also fallen short in providing proper social safety nets to those in need. What’s worse, “hunger and obesity are two sides of the same coin,” says Melissa Boteach, vice president of the Poverty and Prosperity Program of the Center for American Progress, “people making trade-offs between food that is filling but not nutritious and may actually contribute to obesity.” For the many low-income people living in food deserts, the only affordable option may be unhealthy foods.
In reality, hunger in the U.S. is nothing like that of third-world countries, however, the underlying truths of hunger in this global beacon of hope many strive to reach seems disingenuous for those who finally do arrive. To resolve food insecurity, many have called on the government to either increase the minimum wage to a living wage or expand federal programs. Still, change can only occur through consensus and awareness among the people.
– Henry Gao