While the public outcry about exaggerated inequities of a system long skewed in favor of “the moneyed” play out in public squares around the globe, preschoolers across the nation talk food insecurity on the living room floor. Lily, the newest resident of 123 Sesame Street, reaches out to raise awareness about the realities of growing hunger in America. An injustice visited upon the most helpless of all humanity---our progeny.
And in the halls of Congress recommendations to cut the funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and National School Lunch Program are being readied for the Committee on Deficit Reduction.
More that 44.5 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, nearly a 61% increase over four years. In fiscal year 2009, 48 percent of all SNAP participants were children. This recommendation would cut one million recipients and leave some 200,000 children without school lunches.
Proponents of balancing the budget on the backs of the nation’s children claim that “increasingly lax requirements” explain the growth in the number of American households now relying on federal government’s food assistance. A claim at odds with the realities of life on 123 Main Street America.
In September the U.S. Bureau of Census released its annual publication Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage. A decline in real median household income, an increased poverty rate and an increase in the number of individuals without insurance between 2009 and 2010 were the major findings. Not surprisingly, changes in the shares of aggregate household income indicated an increase in income inequality between 2009 and 2010 favoring the higher income household.
Last week Gallup released its monthly U.S. Well-Being Index. According to Gallup, “Americans' access to healthcare, food, and shelter worsened the most in September compared with when the Basic Access Index was at its high point in September 2008. Fewer Americans now have a personal doctor and health insurance. And more Americans are having trouble paying for food and shelter.”
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Perhaps, no organization knows the stark realities of Hunger in America more fully than Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity.
Feeding America reports:
- In 2010, 16.4 million or approximately 22 percent of children in the U.S. lived in poverty.
- Nearly 14 million children are estimated to be served by Feeding America, over 3 million of which are ages 5 and under.
- According to the USDA, over 16 million children lived in food insecure (low food security and very low food security) households in 2010.
The implications of childhood hunger are dire with their consequences accumulating over the lifetime of the individual. Poor pre-natal nutrition causes mothers to bear low birth weight babies---infants likely to experience hearing, vision and learning problems, often, requiring more expensive special education services. A hungry child is more likely to experiences chronic illnesses requiring more frequent medical care—care that is often subsidized by those with health insurance. Children who are malnourished perform poorly academically, become ill more often, potentially infecting classmates, miss school and fall further behind. Emotional and behavior problems surface in the classroom disrupting the learning process for classmates. As young adults the academically unsuccessful drop out of school. Gainful employment becomes problematic. The incident of unemployment among those without a high school diploma is often double the national average. Without access to education beyond high school or a good paying job, a stable productive life becomes all the more elusive. As aging adults, the accumulated effects of poor nutrition and health show up as a financial stressor on the nation’s health care system in the form of chronic diseases. It is estimated that over 75% of our national expenditures result from treatment of chronic diseases.
Hunger for our children is tied inexplicable to unemployment of parents in a vicious feedback loop represented by the system archetype known as “success to the successful.”
Any politician sanctimoniously justifying cuts in food assistance programs to hungry American families should be sent to reeducation camp at 123 Sesame Street!
“The true measure of a nation’s standing is how well it attends to its children – their health and safety, their material security, their education and socialization, and their sense of being loved, valued, and included in the families and societies into which they are born.”—UNICEF Child poverty in perspective: An overview of child well-being in rich countries, Innocenti Report Card 7, 2007
Kay Strong, Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, M.T., University of Houston, M.A., Ohio University; Associate Professor at Baldwin-Wallace College; Areas of expertise: international economics, contemporary social-economic issues, complexity and futures-based perspectives in economics. E-mail: email@example.com