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Food insecurity is defined as not always having access to enough food for active, healthy living Seccombe, 2007. America is thought of as a rich and prosperous country and many people would never think that there is a hunger issue. But, the U.S. government spends close to $1 trillion a year providing money, food, housing, and medical care to poor and low-income families. Of the $1 trillion, about $111 billion is spent on food alone (Kozak, 2012). It is commonly thought that the problems associated with hunger are confined to certain areas of the country or certain neighborhoods, but that is not the case. Right now, millions of people all over America are struggling with hunger. It's time for people to become educated about the causes and possible solutions of hunger in America.
Historical Background of the issue
Folklore from the middle ages often echoed the troubles of the people's daily lives, which included hunger. In these stories children of families that could not afford to keep them were left to wander in the forest and if the children found a fairy their first wish was regularly food (Weill, 2012). It has been thought throughout history that most Americans lead lives of luxury. That isn't hard to believe since movies and television shows portray America as a culture of riches.
Conversations about extreme hunger and poverty have nearly vanished from popular culture and the society as a whole (Weill, 2012).
Hunger and food insecurity are the results of years of workplace discrimination, insufficient government aid, and other economic problems. The recession had a large negative impact on hunger issue in America. "From 1999 to 2007, the economy grew, but most benefits of growth went to the affluent. Food insecurity rose from 10.1 percent in 1999 to 11.1 percent of households in 2007" (Weill, 2012).
A study conducted by the USDA shows that in 2005, about 12 percent of Americans (35 million people) were unable to put food on the table at least part of the year, and that 11 million people reported going hungry on occasion (12 Percent, 2006). Throughout history hunger has continued to be a problem in America, from the earliest settlers to modern day families, putting food on the table is an issue that impacts many people.
The Prevalence and Seriousness of the Issue
In 2007 the percent of food insecure households in America was 11.1 percent (Lewis and Burd-Sharps, 2010). In 2011, a total of 50.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households. Of the 50.1 million, 33.5 million were adults and 16.7 million were children (Feeding America, 2012). Every county in America is affected by food insecurity. Steele County, ND has the lowest percentage of food insecure households, while Holmes County, MS has the highest percentage of food insecure households (Feeding America, 2012). In one of the richest nations on earth, there are still those without enough to eat.
The Impact of the Issue on Families
In food insecure families each member is affected. Young children from food insecure families often have reduced social and cognitive development, along with more health problems and high hospitalization rates. School-age children are most often affected by food insecurity in their school performance. Math and reading scores are usually lower than other children's, they also have a harder time paying attention in class, and often act out. Among teenagers, food insecurity is associated with suicidal thoughts and depression (Chilton and Rabinowich, 2010).
Even moderate food insecurity has an impact on people. Pregnant women that don't have proper nutrition increase the risk of certain birth defects and low infant birth weight. Very young children with bad nutrition due to moderate food insecurity can be stunted in their growth and have delayed cognitive development. Overall, children that suffer from food insecurity are most affected in their physical and cognitive growth, causing them to lag behind their peers and learn less (Weill, 2012).
Adults that suffer from food insecurity are often less productive and have poorer health. Adult hunger also harms children. When adults go hungry to protect children the resulting stress and depression, not only harms the adults, but also the impacts that children's mental health and schooling (Weill, 2012). Hunger in America impacts the lives of children and adults. Their mental, physical and emotional health are greatly affected by the lack of nutrition and the stress of not having enough food.
Pro and Con Sides of the Issue
Three "Key Players" Who Influence and are in Support of the Issue
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), and the National School Lunch program are the three main programs that influence the hunger situation in America (Weill, 2012).
The nation's largest nutrition program is SNAP and the number of people using this program is increasing each year. In 2000 there was an average of 17.2 million people benefiting from SNAP each month, in 2008 that number jumped to an average of 28 million people per month (Weill, 2012).
WIC is another federal assistance program that works to battle the hunger issue in America. The people that benefit from WIC are low income pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children under the age of five. The services provided through WIC are supplemental food, formula, nutrition education, access to healthcare and other social services (USDA, 2012).
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program that helps feed school children. NSLP operates in public and nonprofit private schools. This program provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to qualifying children each school day (USDA, 2012). These three programs, along with other food assistance programs, work to battle the issue of hunger in America.
Three Key Players Who are in Opposition of the Issue
Although there are many programs and organizations that work to reduce the number of families going hungry, there are people who do not believe that hunger is an issue at all in America. Census Bureau data is the main evidence for people in opposition of the hunger issue. In 2009 the Census Bureau reported that of the almost 50 million Americans classified as poor the majority said that they didn't go hungry. Many of the parents classified as poor (96% to be exact) said their children were never hungry in 2009. An even more surprising statistic is that 82% of poor adults said they were never hungry at any time in 2009 due to a lack of food or money (Kozak, 2012).
In the 2010-11 school year, approximately 373,000 children in Wisconsin received free school lunches. The discrepancy with this data is that there are nowhere near 373,000 kids in Wisconsin that come from families that live below the poverty line. This data suggests that families are taking advantage of the school lunch program and that middle-class and upper-middle-class kids that do not qualify for free school lunches are eating lunch at taxpayer expense (Kozak, 2012).
The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Key Player's Positions
The organizations in support of the hunger issue in America have many strengths in their position. They have used the statistics from cities, counties and states from around the country to understand that hunger situation. From that information they have formed programs specifically created for the most prevalent situations, such as, families living under the poverty line, pregnant mothers, and children.
The weaknesses of the supporters of the hunger situation in America are mainly that they don't seem to be lessening the issue. As many statistics have shown over the years, the number of families with food insecurity have increased, not decreased.
The people in opposition to the hunger issue in America have several strengths to their position. There is evidence that hunger may not be as big of an issue among the poor as previously believed. The statistics about poor families reporting that they don't go hungry is one of the main strengths.
The weakness of the opposition's argument is that the reason why the poor are reporting that they don't go hungry is often because they are receiving food assistance. Without the food assistance they would most likely go hungry and the opposition would have no evidence.
Are their Arguments Convincing?
Both the supportive groups and the opposing groups have fairly convincing arguments. Both sides have statistical evidence to support their claims and are able to explain why they are correct. The main reason why the opposing group's arguments are less convincing is that their statistical evidence could be proven false if the people interviewed were receiving food assistance. For instance, the people that report not going hungry in 2009 may be able to say that because of supplemental food programs.
Current Laws that have been passed in Regards to the Issue
The National School Lunch Act was signed into law in 1946 by President Harry Truman. This law created the National School Lunch Program that provides low-cost or free lunches for children. Another law that was passed is the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. This law authorizes funding for the USDA's core child nutrition programs (USDA, 2012). A third law passed is the Food Stamp Act of 1964 which authorized a food stamp program to permit low income households to receive benefits.
Are these Laws Helping or Worsening the Situation?
These laws have helped many individual people to not go hungry, but overall they have not made a huge dent in the number of people with an insufficient amount of food. The number of people on food assistance programs is rising each year and shows that more and more people need help. These programs are keeping people from starving, but they are not helping reverse the process so they can feed themselves.
Fraud is a major problem with many of these programs. Many people will receive the benefits of food assistance when they don't actually need it or even apply multiple times. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo are currently at odds over whether to continue an anti-fraud attempt to fingerprint recipients. Mayor Bloomberg believes that fingerprinting recipients will saves millions of taxpayer dollars by keeping people from applying for assistance multiple times. However, Mr. Cuomo believes that forcing the recipients to be fingerprinted stigmatizes them and will keep hungry children from eating (Kozak, 2012).
The Future of this Issue and my Prediction of What will Happen in 20 years from Now in Regards to the Issue
I don't see this issue being resolved anytime soon. There are so many other issue that are tied in with hunger that they would all have to be solved before hunger was completely extinguished in America. I do not believe that the issue will decrease in the next twenty years because there seems to be a growing trend of the number of people needing to use food assistance programs.
Changes or Improvements I would recommend for the Direction of this Issue
To end hunger both government intervention and individual participation would be needed (Mariana and Rabinowich, 2010). If a full-time minimum wage job pays too little to meet a family's basic needs, improved food stamp and school meals programs can reduce suffering but will not end hunger. To change the number of hungry people in America the nation must increase the incomes of as many families as possible to above the poverty line. To accomplish this the federal minimum wage would need to be increased, along improving unemployment insurance, child support recovery, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) (Weill, 2012). Overall, to improve the issue of hunger in America, I would continue to provide food assistance, but I would also work to help families become self-sufficient.