Epidemic Of Hunger: New Report Says 49 Million Americans Are Dealing With Food Insecurity

Crying Girl - Photo by D Sharon PruittIf the economy really is “getting better”, then why are nearly 50 million Americans dealing with food insecurity?  In 1854, Henry David Thoreau observed that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.  The same could be said of our time.  In America today, most people are quietly scratching and clawing their way from month to month.  Nine of the top ten occupations in the U.S. pay an average wage of less than $35,000 a year, but those that actually are working are better off than the millions upon millions of Americans that can’t find jobs.  The level of employment in this nation has remained fairly level since the end of the last recession, and median household income has gone down for five years in a row.  Meanwhile, our bills just keep going up and the cost of food is starting to rise at a very frightening pace.  Family budgets are being squeezed tighter and tighter, and more families are falling out of the middle class every single day.  In fact, a new report by Feeding America (which operates the largest network of food banks in the country) says that 49 million Americans are “food insecure” at this point.  Approximately 16 million of them are children.  It is a silent epidemic of hunger that those living in the wealthy areas of the country don’t hear much about.  But it is very real.

The mainstream media and our politicians continue to insist that “things are getting better”, and that may be true for Wall Street, but the man who was in charge of the new Feeding America report says that the level of suffering for the tens of millions of Americans that are food insecure has not changed

Nothing is getting better,” said Craig Gundersen, lead researcher of the report, “Map the Meal Gap 2014,” and an expert in food insecurity and food aid programs.

Let’s stop talking about the end of the Great Recession until we can make sure that we get food insecurity rates down to a more reasonable level,” he added. “We’re still in the throes of the Great Recession, from my perspective.”

In fact, a different report seems to indicate that hunger in America is actually getting worse

Children’s HealthWatch, a network of doctors and public health researchers who collect data on children up to 4 years old, says 29% of the households they track were at risk of hunger last year, compared with 25% the year before.

If someone tries to tell you that “the economy is getting better”, that person is probably living in a wealthy neighborhood.  Because those that live in poor neighborhoods would not describe what is going around them as an “improvement”.

In particular, many minority neighborhoods are really dealing with extremely high levels of food insecurity right now.  The following comes from a recent NBC News article

“Minorities are facing serious hunger issues. Ninety-three percent of counties with a majority African-American population fall within the top 10 percent of food-insecure counties, while 60 percent of majority American Indian counties fall in that category”

But if you don’t live in one of those areas and you don’t know anyone that is facing food insecurity, it can be difficult to grasp just how much people are actually suffering out there right now.

For example, consider the story of a young mother named Tianna Gaines Turner

Tianna Gaines Turner can’t remember the last time she went to bed without worrying about how she was going to feed her three children.

She can’t remember the last time she woke up and wasn’t worried about how she and her husband would make enough in their part-time jobs to buy groceries and pay utilities on their apartment in a working-class section of Philadelphia.

And she can’t remember the last time she felt confident she and her husband wouldn’t have to skip meals so their children could eat.

Have you ever been in a position where you had to skip meals just so that other family members could have something to eat?

I haven’t, so it is hard for me to imagine having to do such a thing.  But there are millions of parents that are faced with these kinds of hard choices every day.

Things can be particularly hard if you are a single parent.  Just consider the story of Jamie Grimes

After Jaime Grimes found out in January that her monthly food stamps would be cut again, this time by $40, the single mother of four broke down into sobs — then she took action.

The former high school teacher made a plan to stretch her family’s meager food stores even further. She used oatmeal and ground beans as filler in meatloaf and tacos. She watered down juice and low-fat milk to make it last longer. And she limited herself to one meal a day so her kids — ages 3, 4, 13, and 16 — would have enough to eat.

I have such admiration for working single mothers.  Many of them work more than one job just so that they can provide for their children.  It can be absolutely frustrating to work as hard as you possibly can and still not have enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month.

Those that believe that the economy has gotten “back to normal” just need to look at the number of women that have been forced to turn to government assistance.  As I mentioned the other day, a decade ago the number of American women that had jobs outnumbered the number of American women on food stamps by more than a 2 to 1 margin. But now the number of American women on food stamps actually exceeds the number of American women that have jobs.

The truth is that we are nowhere close to where we used to be.  The last major economic downturn permanently damaged the middle class, and now the next major economic downturn is rapidly approaching.

Right now, there are nearly 50 million Americans that are facing food insecurity.  When the next economic crisis strikes, that number is going to go much higher.

There is going to be a great need for love and compassion in this country during the hard times that are coming.  Instead of just cursing the darkness, I hope that you will choose to be a light to those that desperately need it.

Two More Victims Of The Retail Apocalypse: Family Dollar And Coldwater Creek

Family DollarDid you know that Family Dollar is closing 370 stores? When I learned of this, I was quite stunned. I knew that retailers that serve the middle class were really struggling right now, but I had no idea that things had gotten so bad for low end stores like Family Dollar. In the post-2008 era, dollar stores had generally been one of the few bright spots in the retail industry. As millions of Americans fell out of the middle class, they were looking to stretch their family budgets as far as possible, and dollar stores helped them do that. It would be great if we could say that the reason why Family Dollar is doing so poorly is because average Americans have more money now and have resumed shopping at retailers that target the middle class, but that is not happening. Rather, as you will see later in this article, things just continue to get even worse for Americans at the low end of the income scale.

I was also surprised to learn that Coldwater Creek is closing all of their stores

Women’s clothing retailer Coldwater Creek Inc. on Friday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after failing to find a buyer said it plans to close its stores by early summer.

Coldwater Creek joins other retailers to seek protection from creditors in recent months as consumers keep a lid on spending.

The company said it plans to wind down its operations over the coming months and begin going-out-of-business sales in early May, before the traditionally busy Mother’s Day weekend.

Coldwater Creek, which has 365 stores and employs about 6,000 people, has five stores in Maryland.

I remember browsing through a Coldwater Creek with my wife and mother-in-law just last year. At the time, my mother-in-law was excited about getting one of their catalogs. But now Coldwater Creek is going out of business, and all that will be left of that store is a big, ugly, empty space.

Of course the fact that a couple of major retailers are closing stores is nothing new. This kind of thing happens year after year.

But what we are witnessing right now is really quite startling. So many retailers are closing so many stores that it is being called a “retail apocalypse”. In a previous article entitled “This Is What Employment In America Really Looks Like…“, I detailed how major U.S. retailers have already announced the closing of thousands of stores so far this year.  If the economy really was “getting better”, this should not be happening.

So why are so many stores closing?

Well, the truth is that it is because the middle class is dying. With each passing day, more Americans lose their place in the middle class and fall into poverty. The following is an excerpt from the story of one man that this has happened to. His recent piece in the Huffington Post was entitled “Next Friday, I’ll Be Living In My Car“…

For the past 13 years, I’ve mostly been doing facility management in several locations across the state. After the position turned into more of a sales role, they laid me off. Since then, I’ve been looking to find any type of work. I’ve applied for food stamps, and I’m waiting for that. I’m mostly eating soup from a food pantry.

I’ve been on several interviews — second, third, fourth interviews — and just haven’t been able to land a job for whatever reason. I definitely have the qualifications and the experience. Last week, I had a job offer that I thought was secure, and we were talking my work schedule. They decided to call me back and go with an assistant rather than a manager.

For a number of applications, I’ve dumbed down my resume. I don’t even go with a resume sometimes, just because I don’t want them to know that I’m educated and have a master’s degree. It shoots me in the foot. They don’t want me because they don’t think I’m going to stay. I don’t blame them. I was making six figures at $60-70 an hour. Now, I’m looking for a $10 an hour job.

There are millions upon millions of Americans that can identify with what that man is going through.

Once upon a time, they were living comfortable middle class lifestyles, but now they will take any jobs that they can get.

Just today I came across a statistic that shows the massive shift that is happening in this country. A decade ago, the number of women working outnumbered the number of women on food stamps by more than a 2 to 1 margin. But now the number of women on food stamps actually exceeds the number of women that have jobs.

Wow.

How could things have changed so rapidly over the course of just one decade?

And sadly, things continue to go downhill. Every day in America, more good jobs are being sent out of the country or are being replaced by technology. I really like how James Altucher described this trend the other day…

Technology, outsourcing, a growing temp staffing industry, productivity efficiencies, have all replaced the middle class.

The working class. Most jobs that existed 20 years ago aren’t needed now. Maybe they never were needed. The entire first decade of this century was spent with CEOs in their Park Avenue clubs crying through their cigars, “how are we going to fire all this dead weight?”. 2008 finally gave them the chance. “It was the economy!” they said. The country has been out of a recession since 2009. Four years now. But the jobs have not come back. I asked many of these CEOs: did you just use that as an excuse to fire people, and they would wink and say, “let’s just leave it at that.”

I’m on the board of directors of a temp staffing company with one billion dollars in revenues. I can see it happening across every sector of the economy. Everyone is getting fired. Everyone is toilet paper now.

Flush.

There is so little loyalty in corporate America these days. If you work for a major corporation, you could literally lose your job at any moment. And you can be sure that there is someone above you that is trying to figure out a way to accomplish the tasks that you currently perform much more cheaply and much more efficiently.

Most big corporations don’t care if you are personally successful or if you are able to take care of your family. What they want is to get as much out of you as possible for as little money as possible.

This is a big reason why 62 percent of all Americans make $20 or less an hour at this point.

The quality of our jobs is going down, but the cost of living just keeps going up. Just look at what is happening to food prices. For a detailed examination of this, please see my previous article entitled “Why Meat Prices Are Going To Continue Soaring For The Foreseeable Future“.

As the middle class slowly dies, less people are able to afford to buy homes. Mortgage originations at major U.S. banks have fallen to a record low, and the percentage of Americans that live in “high-poverty neighborhoods” is rising rapidly

An estimated 12.4 million Americans live in economically devastated neighborhoods, according to American Community Survey data collected from 2008 to 2012. That’s an 11 percent jump from the previous survey, conducted from 2007 to 2011. Even more startling, it’s a 72 percent increase in the population of high-poverty neighborhoods since the 2000 Census.

If nothing is done about the long-term trends that are slowly strangling the middle class to death, all of this will just be the beginning.

We will see millions more Americans lose their jobs, millions more Americans lose their homes and millions more Americans living in poverty.

The United States is being fundamentally transformed, and very few people are doing much of anything to stand in the way of this transformation. Decades of incredibly foolish decisions are starting to catch up with us, and unless something dramatic is done right away, all of these problems will soon get much, much worse.

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