What does hunger look like in the waning days of the 2010s?

It has steadily been alleviated in the second half of the decade as the economy rebounded from the Great Recession, bouncing back from the peaks of the decade’s first half.

But millions of Americans still struggle to put complete meals on the table each day, while millions more simply don’t have access to enough calories to fill their day.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 11.1 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2018 – the most recent year available – including nearly 14 percent of households with children. About 4.3 percent of households report very high food insecurity, in which food intake is reduced and eating patterns disrupted.

African American and Hispanic households, and those in rural areas, had disproportionately high rates.

Hunger varies widely from state to state, and is highest in the South, then the Midwest, West and Northeast.

However, Maine ranks highest in New England, where Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts all rank among the lowest 10 states for hunger rates.

In Maine in 2018, 13.6 percent of households were food insecure, 12th worst in the country, while 5.9 percent were very insecure, good for seventh worst. About 1 in 5 Maine children comes from a food-insecure household.

Even amid all that hunger, 37 percent of food-insecure households do not qualify for food assistance of some kind, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, or SNAP, formerly food stamps.

In fact, nationwide only about 56 percent of food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs.

That’s what hunger looks like in a snapshot, though it defies easy characterization.

The hungry are moms and dads who skip meals so their kids can eat. They’re young students who, if they don’t get some food at school, might not eat at all. They’re seniors who stretch a meager food budget for the month so they can afford prescriptions. They’re college students trying to keep up on an empty stomach.

We should ask ourselves why, amid an expanding economy with historic low unemployment, so many people are still going hungry.

We should ask why so many of our hungry neighbors don’t qualify for the food assistance they so obviously need, and which would improve their lives so much.

We should ask why some in the state and federal government are trying to make it more difficult to get assistance, putting up barriers that don’t save money or alleviate hunger.

We should ask why some are trying to shrink school meals programs, when they should be expanded so that every kid who needs a meal to fuel their schoolday can get one.

We should ask why we aren’t using the proven tools at our disposal against a problem that has no business existing.

We should ask why we haven’t ended hunger already.


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