More Americans Facing Food Problems, Report Finds

Nearly 15 percent of households didn't get enough to eat in 2008.

November 16, 2009, 3:04 PM

Nov. 16, 2009— -- A new study finds the number of Americans lacking enough food to eat last year jumped to a higher level than at any point since the federal government began tracking the problem.

The Agriculture Department's annual "food security" report finds 49 million people -- nearly 15 percent of U.S. households -- faced trouble getting enough food at some point during 2008. That's a spike of four million more households than the previous year.

About a third of those families -- including one million children -- had so little food that they were forced to cut back on meals.

The USDA says these rates are "the highest recorded since 1995, when the first national food security survey was conducted."

In a news conference today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack repeatedly referred to the report as "a wake up call for America."

The White House released a prepared statement from President Obama declaring the report "unsettling."

"This trend was already painfully clear in many communities across our nation, where food stamp applications are surging and food pantry shelves are emptying," Obama said. "Our children's ability to grow, learn, and meet their full potential -- and therefore our future competitiveness as a nation -- depends on regular access to healthy meals."

Those most likely to report difficulty getting food were households earning below the poverty line, single-parent families, Hispanics and black families.

The report notes that for many, the problem is a sporadic one. But on average, impacted families were low on food for at least seven months of the year.

Vilsack said there's little doubt the high unemployment rate was to blame.

"There is a correlation between rising unemployment and underemployment and the fact that more families are struggling," Vilsack said. "I don't think there's any question about it."

"One could expect," Vilsack said, that 2009 also will mark another increase. But he predicted the Obama administration's stimulus program will help cut into hunger.

Vilsack also said the 2008 results "would be substantially worse, I mean substantially worse" if not for expanded food aid programs and the stimulus.

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