Feds: 35.5M In U.S. Struggle To Buy Food

hands opened and dinner plate over US map and flag
AP/CBS
More than 35.5 million people in the United States went hungry in 2006 as they struggled to find jobs that can support them, a figure that was virtually unchanged from the previous year.

That's according to an Agriculture Department study, which says single mothers and their children were among the most likely to be in this situation.

The 35.5 million people represented more than 1 in 10, or 12.1 percent, who said they did not have enough money or resources to get food for at least some period during the year, according to the department's annual hunger survey. That is compared with 35.1 million people who made similar claims in 2005.

"This is encouraging, but we know we have more work to do," said Kate Houston, the department's deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. She said the numbers aren't much different from 2005, which saw a decline after five straight years of increases.

Of the 35.5 million people, 11.1 million reported they had "very low food security," meaning they had a substantial disruption in the amount of food they typically eat. For example, among families, a third of those facing disruption in the food they typically eat said an adult in their family did not eat for a whole day because they could not afford it.

"No one in America should go hungry," Houston said.

The survey was based on Census Bureau data and does not include the homeless. About three-quarters of a million people were homeless on a given day in 2005, according to federal estimates.

Among the findings:

-Among families, about 12.6 million, or 10.9 percent, reported going hungry for at least some period last year. Those disproportionately reporting hunger were single mothers (30.4 percent); black households (21.8 percent); Hispanic households (19.5 percent); and households with incomes below the official poverty line (36.3 percent).

-Of the 35.5 million people reporting periods of hunger last year, 12.6 million were children.

"This report comes at a critical time for hungry Americans and those of us who help serve them," said Vicki Escarra, president of the largest U.S. hunger relief group - America's Second Harvest-The Nation's Food Bank Network. "There simply may be no food for many families when the rest of the nation gathers to celebrate Thanksgiving and religious holidays."

In the report, the terms "low food security" and "very low food security" replace the old descriptions of "food insecurity without hunger" and "food insecurity with hunger." The change was made last year based on a recommendation by the National Academies, which advise the government on science issues, a move that has drawn criticism by some Democrats who say the report speaks too euphemistically.

Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger group, said he is troubled by the report. He said figures for 2007 could prove to be worse, given rising food prices and an uneven economy this year.

"We need to do more to make sure that households have access to healthy food by improving and expanding proven programs that help," he said.
By Hope Yen By Hope Yen