The Ten States Where The Most People Go Hungry

There are at least ten states in which 6% or more of population experiences very low food security. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “In households with very low food security, the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year because the household lacked money and other resources for food. ” Alarmingly, the report concludes that food insecurity is the highest it has been since USDA began tracking the statistics in 1995.

The states where hunger is more prevalent than the national average are also often states in which a high percentage of the people live below the poverty line.  Poor people also eat cheaper, less nutritious food which may lead them to have higher incidences of obesity and additional health problems.

Among the most complete evaluations of the links between  hunger and other sociopolitical problems is the The United States Department of Agriculture’s 2010 report, “Household Food Security in the United States, 2009,” published in November. The research found that certain groups were more likely to go hungry than the national average.

Households with incomes below the poverty line (19.3 percent)
Families with children headed by single women (13.3 percent)
Black households (10.1 percent)
Hispanic households (8.8 percent)
Households in principle cities of metropolitan areas (6.6 percent)

There are other signs that hunger is a pervasive problem in America. One is that almost one in five people in the United States participates in a food assistance program such as Food Stamps, now officially known as The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. More people are also seeking assistance from food banks. Neither can solve the hunger problem alone, as the government numbers show.

24/7 Wall St. looked at the figures on people who have what the Department of Agriculture calls “low security” or “very low security households.”  Unlike very low security households, low security households are “food-insecure households [that] obtained enough food to avoid substantially disrupting their eating patterns or reducing food intake by using a variety of coping strategies, such as eating less varied diets, participating in Federal food assistance programs, or getting emergency food from community food pantries.” We also examined data on unemployment,  the percentage of the population living below the poverty line, obesity and median household income.

Many Americans do not eat well or do not eat often enough to remain healthy, and there seems to be no concrete reason for it.  The problem predates the recent economic downturn.

It is tempting to try to determine why so many people are routinely hungry in a country as rich as the United States. It is equally tempting to suggest how the problem might be solved.  For instance, the government could mandate the redistribution of wealth. Alternatively, the Agriculture Department could lead a new War on Poverty to tackle the problem that was supposed to have been solved decades ago. Neither will happen. Hunger is not enough of a priority to be eradicated. That is obvious based on the lack of any coordinated effort by either the public or the private sector to do so. The reasons for that continue to be a mystery.

This is the 24/7 Wall St. examination of the states where hunger is the largest problem in the country and includes data reflecting how hunger has a relationship to other socio-economic factors for each state.

Tied For 10. Ohio
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.1%
Median Household Income: $46,318
% Below Poverty Line: 13.4
Unemployment: 9.9%
Obesity: 28.8%

The percentage of Ohio households that suffer from food insecurity was 14.8% for the years 2007-2009, among the top ten states for food insecurity,  according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  This rate was higher than the national average for those years, which was 13.5%.  About 6% of households reduced their food intake because they did not have enough money to buy food.

Tied For 10. Florida
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.1%
Median Income : $44,736
% Below Poverty Line: 14.9%
Unemployment: 11.9%
% Obesity: 25.2%

The severity of food insecurity has increased more dramatically in Florida than almost any other state due to its troubled economy.  Food insecurity rose to an average of 14.2% of households between 2007 and 2009 from 8.9% in 2004 to 2006.  The number of households experiencing very low food security has almost doubled over this time period, increasing from 3.1% to 6.1%.

9. Vermont
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.2%
Median Income: $51,618
% Below Poverty Line: 11.4%
Unemployment: 5.7%
Obesity: 22.8%

Last year, the Vermont Foodbank distributed 7.6 million pounds of food to at least 86,000 Vermonters, The Burlington Free Press reported. John Sayles, the executive director of the organization, told the paper “the need [for food assistance] continues to rise at an alarming rate.”  Additionally, enrollment in Vermont’s Food Stamps Program, 3SquaresVT, is at an all-time high, serving about 88,000 residents.

Tied For 6. Texas
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.4%
Median Income: $48,259
% Below Poverty Line: 17.2
Unemployment: 8.1%
Obesity: 28.7%

The number of households experiencing very low food security has risen over the past decade. From 2001 to 2003, 4.1% of households in Texas faced very low food security.  The portion of households which effectively went hungry jumped to to 5.3% from 2004 to 2006.  As of 2009, the average number of households experiencing hunger reached 6.4%.

Tied For 6. Missouri
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.4%
Median Income: $45,229
% Below Poverty Line: 14.6%
Unemployment: 9.4%
Obesity: 30%

Missouri had more than 350,000  families which either have low or very low food security in 2009. One food pantry in the state, Circle of Concern, reports demand for food was up 24% from the previous year.  This is the third largest increase in people having trouble obtaining food in the nation.

Tied For 6. Arkansas
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.4%
Median Income: $37,823
% Below Poverty Line: 18.8%
Unemployment: 7.8%
Obesity: 30.5%

Arkansas has one of the highest rates of very low food security in the country, affecting 6.4% of households.  Similarly, it ranks number one in the nation for low food security, with 17.7% of households needing some sort of assistance for buying food.  In addition, the state has the highest rate of food insecurity for children, 24.4%, according to a 2008 study conducted by the charity Feeding America.

Tied For 4. Oklahoma
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.5%
Median Income: $41,664
% Below Poverty Line: 16.2%
Unemployment: 6.9%
Obesity: 31.4%

Demand at food banks in Oklahoma has increased while donations have remained steady, Dawn Burroughs of Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma told The Oklahoman newspaper.  This problem is extremely serious, as the number of households who have had to reduce their food intake due to lack of money has grown from 5.3% to 6.5% from 2006 to 2009.

Tied For 4. Mississippi
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.5%
Median Income: $36,646
% Below Poverty Line: 21.9%
Unemployment: 9.7%
Obesity: 34.4%

Citizens of Mississippi have faced a number of pressing issues with regards to food over the last few years.  The state has the fourth highest rate of very low food security in the country and the third highest rate of low food security at 17.1%.  More than one in five residents use the state’s Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called Food Stamps.  Additionally, the state has the worst obesity rate in the nation at 34.4%.

3. Oregon
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.6%
Median Income: $48,457
% Below Poverty Line: 14.3%
Unemployment: 10.5%
Obesity: 23%

About half a million Oregon residents suffer from low food security.  Rachel Bristol, CEO of the Oregon Food Bank, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that “it’s a combination of the shift in our economy and the types of jobs here. We’ve moved from heavily manufacturing and the natural resource based industry to the service sectors.”  Oregonians are now generally earning less and receiving fewer benefits.

2. Maine
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.7%
Median Income: $45,734
% Below Poverty Line: 12.3%
Unemployment: 7.4%
Obesity: 25.8%

The rate of food insecurity in Maine has increased dramatically over the last few years.  According to The Portland Press Herald, the number of hungry households in the state increased 5% from 1996 to 2009.  Similarly, the number of homes with very low security rose by 2.7% over the same time period.  The rate of increase for both of these categories is twice the national average.

1. Alabama
Total % of Households With Very Low Food Security: 6.8%
Median Income: $40,489
% Below Poverty Line: 17.5%
Unemployment: 8.9%
Obesity: 31%

Although 15% of Alabama households faced food security issues between 2007 and 2009, 6.8% have experienced hunger due to very low food security.  This is twice as many as the 3 years prior.  Additionally, the state has the highest rate of very low food security in the country.  In total, about 1,860,000 households require food assistance in Alabama.

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