71% of the people we serve live in poverty. Nearly half of them have had to choose between buying food and paying for utilities, rent, mortgage or medical care.
by William Vancour, Communications Intern
Last month, Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs published a study titled “At Risk: America’s Poor During and After the Great Recession” and its findings are more than a little alarming.
The study takes an extensive look at the recession that took place during 2007-2008 (from which many have yet to recover) and paints an image of the effects it has had on poverty in the United States. The “Great Recession,” as it has been aptly named, is the worst recession since the Great Depression, and has left behind the greatest number of long-term unemployed since records have been kept in 1948. Currently, there are more than 4 million Americans who say that they have been without work for more than 12 months. These individuals in particular are at risk of joining the ranks of what has been referred to as the “new poor”—as opposed to the perennially poor and near poor— as their unemployment insurance eventually runs out and many are still unable to find jobs.
Despite the economic recovery that has actually occurred, and the slightly encouraging dip in unemployment toward the end of 2011, poverty in America is distressingly widespread. According to the official measures, in 2010 there were 46.2 million Americans living in poverty (15.1% of the population). As it stands, the current official poverty rate is the highest that it has been since 1993. This number has been steadily increasing, and it is a trend that is expected to continue. The overall proportion of individuals living in poverty increased by 27% between 2006 and 2010, while the total U.S. population during this time frame has increased by less than 3.3%. Poverty is a pervasive problem in America.
In times like these, Americans often look to the social safety net and their communities for help and support. As the number of people finding themselves in poverty and struggling to make ends meet continues to grow, the need for food assistance grows along with it. The devastating combination of unemployment, stagnant wages, and the rising cost of food is leaving many to wonder where their next meal is going to come from. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and its member agencies have been here to combat hunger and food insecurity, doing our best to satisfy the demand for emergency food in the region. However, food banks and the emergency food network were not initially designed to handle what we now face— the need for prolonged emergency food assistance at continually high levels.
People are forced to turn to their local food pantries and meal sites, making the acquisition of food from these sources a part of their normal pattern for meeting food needs. Across the country, the number of people relying on food banks for the first time is up by 30 percent, and all of these individuals—new and old—are leaning on this assistance for longer periods of time. Here at The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, our member agencies on the front line confirm these national statistics. Many agencies have been forced to close their doors, shorten their hours, or give out less food to adjust to the increase in demand (which, along with rising food costs, has created a “perfect storm” of challenges). The Food Bank recognizes this sustained need, and through our Network Capacity Building department, we work to strengthen the emergency food network in the region. By working one-on-one with member agencies, we determine their needs and seek out opportunities for collaboration between agencies. Through this initiative, we seek to reinforce the capacity and abilities of our existing emergency food network, with the hope of helping our neighbors in need and allowing them to achieve even greater food self-sufficiency in these trying times.