A new study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows household hunger remained steady from 2009 to 2010, but worsened in Texas during the years the state has been hailed as a model for weathering the economic downturn.
Built on a measure called “food insecurity,” the study was based on a survey of 45,000 households during the 2010 census, and found 14.5 percent of households had difficulty meeting their food needs — a statistic that was “essentially unchanged” from 2009, according to the agency. Last year saw a decline in the proportion of households with “severe” food insecurity across the country, too.
“In Texas, however, the three-year average food insecurity rate did increase, from 17.4 percent in 2007-2009 to the current rate of 18.8 percent in 2008-2010, according to the Austin-based “>Center for Public Policy Priorities.
“Food insecurity not only hurts individuals and families, it costs all of us,” said CPPP senior policy analyst Celia Cole in a statement. When kids come to school hungry, they cannot learn. This affects academic achievement and the health of our future workforce and economic competitiveness.”
At 19.4 percent, Mississippi’s food insecurity rate was the only one worse than Texas’.
Texas and Mississippi are tied for the highest proportion of minimum wage workers, too, and the Austin Food Bank’s John Turner argues that’s no coincidence. Writing in the Guardian Online, he says simply having a job isn’t enough to stave off poverty and keep a family fed:
The vast majority of the 48,000 central Texans this food bank serves every week are employed, hard-working men and women who are just not earning a living wage – a wage that would enable them to put food on their tables, build for their families’ future and participate in the American dream.
U.S. Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon credited food stamps for keeping hunger levels steady nationwide, according to the Dallas Morning News:
In a conference call with reporters, Concannon (above, USDA photo) was asked about the statistically significant increase in food-insecurity rates in some states, such as Texas. Concannon said Texas hasn’t done as well as Florida, another large state that was battered much harder by the recent recession. Florida’s three-year average was 16.1 percent.
Concannon said that nearly two years ago, Texas’ food stamp eligibility determination program was a mess, with a backlog of nearly 60,000 unprocessed applications after “a very inefficient and ineffective privatization scheme.”
At a campaign stop in Iowa last month, though, Gov. Rick Perry was less enthusiastic about food stamps, calling the program a “testament to widespread misery.”
At the time, Perry was touting his part in Texas’ job creation record, suggesting that as president, he’d help improve a situation that has one in eight Iowans relying on the government for food. “Food stamps are not the solution. They’re a symptom of the problem that 2 million people are without work.”
Of course, the rate’s higher in Texas — 15.6 percent of the population is on food stamps here. Between 2009 and 2010, that proportion grew 2.8 percent, the fifth-highest increase in the country.
One U.K.-based filmmaker recently chose San Antonio for his look at food access in the U.S., which became the TV documentary “Texas: A State of Hunger.”
“Hunger is a political issue,” says Texas Food Bank Network director JC Dwyer in the film. “We have enough food to feed everyone, but the problem is distribution.”