Texas Leads States in Risk of Hunger
The Monitor – October 29, 2005
By Liz Austin - The Associated Press
AUSTIN – A higher percentage of Texas households were at risk of going hungry over the past three years than in any other state, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Agriculture Department.
Between 2002 and 2004, more than 16 percent of Texas households were food insecure, meaning that at some point they had trouble providing enough food for all their family members, the USDA report said.
In nearly 5 percent of Texas households, at least one family member went hungry at least one time during that period because they couldn’t afford enough food. That’s the fourth-highest rate in the country.
Nationwide, 11.4 percent of households were at risk of going hungry during that same period, and 3.6 percent of U.S. households had at least one member go hungry, the USDA said.
While Texas has consistently ranked among the top five states, this is the first year it leads the nation, said Celia Hagert, a senior policy analyst at the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates more state spending on education and social programs.
The news didn’t surprise Mildred Wauson, director of the St. Thomas Center in Angleton, about 40 miles south of Houston. Her nine-church ecumenical program runs a food pantry, helps people pay their rent and utility bills and provides other emergency services.
Wauson says she’s seen a significant increase in the number of families seeking help from their food pantry and twice as many senior citizens.
“You hear all the time about how the United States is getting so much better off, and I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, how about down here?’” she said.
Texas was one of just nine states to see statistically significant increases in food insecurity and hunger rates when the USDA compared three-year average rates for 1999-2004. An average of nearly 14 percent of Texas households were at risk for hunger between 1999 and 2001, and an average of 3.6 percent of Texas households experienced hunger.
J. Larry Brown, the director of the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University, pointed out that the increases came at a time when the economy actually was improving. While more people are working, they’re getting paid less, he said.
“People are constantly having to make decisions when they get their small paychecks about whether they pay their rent or medical care or put groceries on the table,” Brown said.
Because people often can’t control their rent, utility and medical bills, their food budget often takes the first hit, he said. The worst off go hungry, he said, while others buy food that’s cheap and filling but nutritionally empty.