Written by S.T. VanAirsdale, CNN
Of the 50 million Americans living in poverty, 40 million of them are living in poverty with no children, according to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute. So many families are reliant on food pantries for survival that American charities accept more than 50 million requests a year for assistance from food pantries alone.
“Many observers conclude that our current situation does not call for a serious discussion of poverty and inequality, given the number of charity donations diverted to food pantries and other welfare safety-net programs,” said Jacob Soboroff , host of CNN’s “The VanAirsdale Show” podcast and an economist with the Institute.
“But maybe we should open our ears to these voices and re-evaluate how we view our overall system of social welfare and access to basic goods and services,” he said in an interview.
“There is strong evidence that of the most visible sources of benefit to those on low incomes, food pantries and similar programs have become the new welfare state,” said Jeff Lamm , an economist with the Economic Policy Institute and author of the report.
The good news is that the number of Americans who are living in poverty continues to drop as the economy recovers from the 2008 financial crisis. The bad news is that the poverty rate has not returned to where it was before the recession, let alone back to pre-recession levels, Soboroff noted.
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The root of the problem?
Soboroff traced the upsurge in food pantries to the Great Recession, in which unemployment insurance and welfare benefits were significantly slashed. The federal government also cut its proportion of food stamp expenditures to individual states by more than 20% in 2011. The result was a jump in donations to food pantries and the immediate onset of “the greatest food insecurity on record,” Soboroff noted.
Only 6% of food items donated by the food industry are actually distributed through pantries and food banks. Food waste is such a problem that one in five people in the US suffer from hunger and nutrition issues caused by excess food that goes to waste, according to Soboroff.
However, it’s not just poverty, hunger, and food waste causing food pantries to see a rise in donations. One could argue that recent political climate has also produced a “duplicitous industry climate” in which restaurants, supermarkets, and the food industry in general tend to worry about financial self-interests and ignore the long-term, social welfare interests of their bottom line.
All of this is a complex problem and a complex solution. Food is consumed by a relatively small portion of Americans, many of whom have never experienced extreme poverty. And while federal and state policies and tax policies can play a major role in preventing food wastage and alleviating poverty, the responsibility for fixing the root causes of poverty is ultimately up to the individual as well as their governments.
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