Study: Food Hardship Rates Remain Steady But Too High

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With Thanksgiving Day just around the corner, it’s hard not to think about people who don’t have enough food to be thankful for. A new study [PDF] offers a bit of good news and bad about hunger in America: the number of people who reported having trouble affording food in the past year has remained steady, despite rising unemployment rates, but rates are still far too high at about 18%.

Gallup teamed up with Healthways in January 2008 and since that time has interviewed 1,000 households per day nearly every day to get a sense of the health and well-being of Americans. One metric the survey group used relates to food hardship, defined as the inability to buy enough food for members of the household at some point in the previous 12 months.

The advocacy group Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) analyzed Gallup research and found that, despite unemployment rates rising to between 9.5% and 9.9% during 2010, food hardship stayed steady at an average of 17.7% of the population.

FRAC considers the lack of a surge in food needs as a victory for federal food programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP/Food Stamp participation is at an all-time high with one in eight Americans receiving food stamps. Under the federal stimulus, the dollar amount of benefits increased at least 13.6% per month starting in April 2009.

However, a similar survey found that 76% of the 37 million people who receive assistance from another organization, Feeding America, were unsure of where their next meal would come from. And 36% of those clients had to choose between paying for food or medical bills.