Hunger in America

A few years ago on a discussion board someone asked, how can people be hungry in America? There’s a church in every neighborhood and a food bank in every town. At the time, I didn’t know the answer to that question. Since then, I’ve looked in to it.

The answer is, resources are limited. Where I live, the food bank parcels out food to the food pantries, mostly churches that serve a specific neighborhood. There are two food pantries that serve my neighborhood. One of them is open three days a week, which sounds like one could get plenty of food. The thing is, any one household can only come to get food there once each thirty days. When the food bank is short of food, it changes to once each sixty days. For one person, they give a paper grocery bag full of canned and packaged foods.

The other pantry has recently cut back to the first and third Tuesday of each month. They give what they have, one meat, sometimes eggs, bread, and canned and packaged goods, roughly a plastic grocery bag full. If you get there late, the protein will be a can of tuna or shelf stable pack of chicken rather than a frozen meat.

The food pantries are meant to be a supplement. If your income is low enough to qualify for the food pantry, you probably also qualify for food stamps, aka SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This is meant to be a supplement to whatever you can afford to spend on food. It’s very easy for a family with a low income to have enough expenses that they don’t have cash for food, and depend entirely on the ‘supplement.’

Some say, well, they should get a better job.

If you look at something like the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows what jobs exist in this country, you’ll see that it is literally impossible for ALL of us to have well-paid jobs. As you go down the job pyramid from CEO to worker bee, there are just a whole lot more worker bee jobs than upper level jobs. That seems like a naturally occurring structure that individuals can’t change.

If every working age adult suddenly became book-smart, energetic and personable and went back to school to get a degree, doctor, lawyer, engineer, business leader, all the good jobs, some of them would fill the available top jobs. Many of them, still educated and energetic, would have to take the mid level jobs because there are far more people than there are highly paid jobs. Then another bunch of them would be bringing out your purchase at the auto parts store and delivering your furniture because those things need to be done. When the upper level jobs are full, even our hypothetically all equally wonderful workers will work the lower level jobs because that’s what exists.

The more available jobs may pay minimum wage. Some that pay a little more may only offer twenty or thirty hours a week of work. Furthermore, many people are not healthy, book-smart, and energetic.

At the food pantries near me, 80% to 90% of the people in line are over fifty and under sixty-five. Many have walkers, oxygen, canes, back braces, and other visible signs of illness or disability. Others surely have non-visible illnesses and limitations.

Low wage jobs, limited work hours, illness, family expenses, limited supplemental resources. That’s how it’s possible for people to be hungry in America.

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