As the COVID pandemic devastated the economy in the spring and summer of 2020, tens of millions of Americans lost their jobs and became increasingly vulnerable to hunger. As a result, the country’s food bank network has seen a sudden increase in its use.
Just before and at the start of the pandemic, food banks distributed 1.1 billion pounds of food in the first quarter of 2020. In the fall of that year, they were distributing 1.7 billion pounds.
Since then, this staggering increase has stabilized or diminished somewhat in many places, but that does not mean that the country is no longer suffering from an epidemic of food insecurity. On the contrary: Large food banks across the country are still reporting much higher levels of need – and food distribution in an attempt to meet that need – than before COVID.
In Washington, DC. For example, major food banks are reporting an increase in use of over 60% from 2019. Simply put, as Thanksgiving returns, millions of Americans struggle to feed their families the bare minimum on a daily basis. . If they are able to have wide circulation, it will probably only be thanks to food charities and their volunteers and donors.
Meanwhile, enrollments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have increased by 7 million from two years ago, with more than 42 million Americans now receiving food stamps. Among them, more than 4 in 10 are members of families with at least one person working.
In much of the South, more than 15 percent of residents receive SNAP assistance. In New Mexico, the state with the highest rate of food stamp usage in the country, more than one in five residents is enrolled in the SNAP program. It was in response to increased reliance on SNAP that the Biden administration earlier this year implemented the largest ever permanent increase in the value of food stamps. As a result of this increase, a family of four is now entitled to up to $ 835 per month in SNAP benefits.
From a certain perspective, these numbers and SNAP’s resilience in the face of long-standing Conservative antipathy to the program are success stories: tens of millions of Americans lack economic security to easily feed themselves. and feed their families, but fortunately the country does not have a famine epidemic. Instead, its charitable networks have shifted into high gear – and a food distribution mechanism has been refined to keep hunger at bay for the vast majority of beneficiaries. At the same time, SNAP has become the de facto success story of an otherwise withered social safety net.
Seen another way, however, and these numbers are a devastating indictment of the current American economic model: In the richest country in the world, with more billionaires than anywhere else on Earth, a large percentage of the population does not have the capacity to set aside financial resources to be able to easily feed themselves and their children. Instead, they have to fall back on either charity or government aid. Many people who depend on food aid have jobs, but not jobs that allow them to buy food for their families.
In the South, in particular, where in few places the local minimum wage exceeds the federal minimum of $ 7.25 an hour (less than half of what it is in cities and states that have moved closer the âliving wageâ of $ 15 an hour in recent years), the scandal of the food insecurity of the working poor remains omnipresent.
This is a crisis – magnified, though not created by the pandemic – not of failures in food production but of skyrocketing inequalities. There is clearly no food shortage in the United States, but there is is a shortage of disposable income among a growing percentage of people at the bottom of the economy. As a society, we have become accustomed to the astonishing realities of families facing food shortages amid a larger glut of basic commodities.
As the country prepares to celebrate a holiday that for many people revolves around hearty feasts with family and friends, this crisis has been exacerbated by months of high inflation, especially in key sectors of the world. economy such as fuel and power. Some meats increased their prices by nearly 10 percent last year. More worryingly, this summer in several food categories, such as eggs, prices started to climb 3%. per month.
If this continues for a significant period of time, it will have massive impacts on the purchasing power of poor Americans, who already spend a vastly disproportionate portion of their limited income on food. While the average amount of personal disposable income Americans spend on food to prepare at home increased from 13.7% in 1960 to 5.7% in 2000 as incomes rose and food costs fell, this has never been the case for poor Americans: in fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates from five years ago found that the poorest quintile of Americans still spent between 28 and 42 percent of his pre-tax income for food.
As low-income Americans are also particularly affected by soaring prices for housing, fuel, and a range of consumer goods such as used cars, inflationary trends in the food industry are threatening. to make their economic tightrope walk even more dangerous.
As a result, even though the overall unemployment rate has returned to near pre-pandemic levels, the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating an unemployment rate of 4.6%, Even though overall poverty rates have fallen to almost historically low levels due to huge levels of government intervention in the economy, food insecurity remains widespread in the United States