If you’re from the United States, what image is conjured in your head when you hear the words ‘child hunger’?
For many, images of malnourished children in third world countries of Asia and Africa flash immediately. But child hunger is rampant and closer to home than you would think.
1 in 7 children go hungry in the United States. There are many reasons why food is inaccessible for so many children, usually chalked out to systemic racism and inequality of opportunity.
We all deserve a wake-up call when it comes to child hunger. This pressing concern coincides with other systemic injustices and issues, such as school drop-outs, juvenile delinquency, and drug abuse.
As COVID-19 affected all communities and people on a global scale, children from underprivileged and marginalized communities suffered even more as unemployment sky-rocketed.
SNAP Doesn’t Make the Cut
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is also known as food stamps and were introduced in order to close the gap between underprivileged households and accessibility of food. However, this is not a perfect system or a permanent solution, and the data points to more children going hungry every year in the United States.
Support organizations like feedthechildren.org that work towards eradicating child hunger across marginalized communities, especially those that fall below the federal poverty line.
No Equality in Food Insecurity
Food insecurity refers to how easily available or accessible food is for a family. There are varying cases of food insecurity. Families that can only afford very low-quality and low-cost unhealthy food are also considered to be food insecure as this food is not nutritious and sufficient for the recommended dietary intake, especially for children.
In the United States, food insecurity plagues families across states: but it particularly affects Black, Hispanic and Indigenous people (BIPOC). Systemic Racism and inequal opportunities contribute to generational poverty and lack of resources which furthers the problem in a vicious cycle.
The percentage of undernourished children in food-insecure households is around 20-25% for Black, Indigenous and Hispanic people of color. The statistics for white households is half the number — about 9-10%.
This data shows us that marginalized communities are twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity. They are also given less access to food stamps and other government sanctioned relief programs.
Child Hunger in Spite of Employment
We tend to assume that child hunger is a pressing concern only in homeless and unemployed families. Unfortunately, child hunger is rampant even in households with one full-time employed breadwinner or more. Minimum wage doesn’t make the cut for necessary nourishment and access to healthy food.
According to a study carried out in 2019, about 60% of food insecure households had one member or more that were a part of the labour force. This includes part time workers and daily wage earners. 50% of this household had one member with full-time employment.
This speaks to a greater issue than just unemployment. The federal poverty line is $26,200 annual income for a family with four members (two parents, two children). There are many people in the United States who earn less than this number ($26,200). The poverty line for one member in a household is $12,880, to put in perspective.
Children Depend on School Lunch Programs
You must have heard of National School Lunch Program (NLSP) and the National School Breakfast Program (SBP). These programs are arguably even more beneficial than SNAP when it comes to child hunger. Many children do not get access to whole, balanced, nutritious meals outside of these school programs. These meals can be the only balanced meals that children consume in an entire day: making summer a scarier time.
Summer vacations where children do not benefit from school programs is a critical time of extreme food insecurity and child hunger in households that fall below the federal poverty line.
Long-term solutions lie in fixing systemic inequality of opportunity and access to resources, but these are generational, long-drawn efforts to completely obliterate childhood hunger. In the meantime, supporting the right organizations that seek to close the gap and feed children who need it most can have the most tangible impact.