Your Next-Door Neighbor May Have Food Insecurity By John Zogby

Your Next-Door Neighbor May Have Food Insecurity By John Zogby

I have been tracking food insecurity in the United States since 1987. We have been asking a very simple question on almost all of our Zogby surveys: “Have you or anyone in your household gone without food for 24 hours at a time regularly in the past year because of a lack of money or food”?

Our original percentages of between 4% and 4.5% national had been shocking enough. Remember these have been mostly telephone surveys and admitting to suffering from food insecurity is not something we think Americans would want to admit to a total stranger.

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We also have known that the numbers are actually higher because people in high poverty census tracts may not have had a landline or wanted to answer a poll. When we actually assigned students and trained canvassers to go door-to-door in high poverty areas in our own country in Upstate New York or in the 5th Ward in Houston, the percentages exceeded 21%.

But in our recent nationwide survey of 1001 likely voters nationwide, taken July 5 and 6, we found 14% answering yes to the food insecurity question. This has been a steady progression upward over 30 years and documents to impact of a changing economy.

To be sure, the change from manufacturing to information to technology to global leaves many victims in its wake. And those victims are not simply the usual suspects – i.e. the poorest of the poor.

 Photo by Damon Winter/The New York Times

Photo by Damon Winter/The New York Times

A recent study released by CBS News documents shows that living what we normally define as a “middle-class lifestyle” now costs 30% more for Americans than it did a decade ago. And missing food regularly is part of a tradeoff that growing numbers of Americans must decide in order to meet their mortgage payment and utilities bill – as well as dress their children, pay for gas and clothing.

Back in the 1980s we first reported that American households earning $75,000 or more included almost 4% missing food for 24 hours at a time regularly. These were folks coming to grips with working at jobs that pay less than previous jobs, of holding on to suburban higher-end homes in order to neither give up the dream they had worked so hard to achieve or at least to see if better times would come back.

Hunger is real and it may be among our friends, the people with whom we worship, the family next door, or even us. Women are more likely to experience hunger (15%) than men. Remember their story may very well include former spouses who are not paying child support or even "winning" the house in a divorce settlement but with only one half of the income to support it.

It also represents one of the impacts of pay inequality. One in nine whites (11%) say they experience food insecurity- but contrast that with 17% of Hispanics and 21% of African Americans.

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Democrats (17%) are more likely than Republicans (10%) or independents (14%) – but these are all double digits. I wonder, like you, who the 10% of Republicans support for President.

Younger Americans (20% of 18-29 year olds and 20% 30-44 year olds) have this hunger experience – significantly more so than 45-64 year olds (13%) and those 65 and older (6%).

While 21% of voters in large cities go through this troubling experience, 14% of those in small cities, 8% in suburbs and 10% in rural areas do also.

Interestingly, hunger permeates the lives of the Creative Class, i.e. those who work in the knowledge sector, with 17% -- as it does among Weekly Walmart Shoppers (15%), NASCAR Fans (20%), and self-identified members of the Investor Class (14%).

Hunger is a real issue. It is not simply the stuff that occupies social services departments and nonprofit agencies. Nor is it about the “invisible others” so many of us try to avoid. Hunger is right next door or even in our own kitchens.

 

 

John Zogby (@TheJohnZogby) is the founder of the Zogby Poll and Zogby companies, including John Zogby Strategies, and author of We Are Many We Are One: Neo-Tribes and Tribal Analytics in the 21st Century America.

 

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