OR Holds the Line on Hunger...but for How Long?
PORTLAND, Ore. - At first glance, the new national figures on hunger from the U.S. Department of Agriculture seem like good news for Oregon. The rate of what is known as "very low food security" in the state has held steady at just over 6 percent. The term means people eat less or skip meals, even for an entire day, when they can't afford food.
Oregon also looks better compared with the nation as a whole - but that's because the national rate has climbed.
Rachel Bristol, chief executive officer of the Oregon Food Bank, says the USDA numbers show hunger is being held in check only through a coordinated effort - and not for everyone.
"It tells us that, despite all the federal food and nutrition programs, despite what the state does, what the counties do; what this huge nonprofit emergency food network does, there's still 6 percent of our population going hungry."
One in five Oregon households is part of the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, compared with one in seven households nationally, Bristol says. Oregon Food Bank locations across the state are still seeing increases in requests for emergency food.
Dr. Mark Edwards, associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University, tracks food insecurity. In Oregon, he says, even groups which are traditionally less likely to go hungry - such as two-parent families and people with year-round, full-time employment - show up in the statistics. To Edwards, that's evidence that paychecks aren't stretching far enough.
"From my work, looking at the kinds of data that we use and the way the numbers do track with economic conditions, I'm confident that the data tell the right story. And so then, the question to anybody is, what do they want to do once they've heard that story?"
Bristol's current concern is that emergency federal food programs put in place during the recession already are winding down. She says those programs increased the agricultural commodities coming to Oregon last year from 8.5 million to 17 million pounds.
"That was a combination of stimulus funding, as well as bonus buys that the secretary of agriculture made. We're projecting this year, our best picture is a drop of 50 percent in those federal commodities."
The 6 percent figure means more than 223,000 Oregonians are going hungry - and an additional 13.7 percent, or more than 500,000, at least occasionally aren't sure where their next meal is coming from.
The USDA report is online at ers.usda.gov.