Society

35 Million Going Hungry? Only in America

| by Demos

NEW YORK, NY--In the midst of the worst economic crisis
since the Great Depression, investigative journalist and Demos Senior Fellow Sasha Abramsky exposes the untold story of America's hunger
crisis in his new book, BreadlineUSA: The Hidden Scandal of American Hunger and How to
Fix It
(PoliPoint, June 2009).

Written as part first-person
account and part in-depth reportage, Abramsky combines extensive research,
interviews with American families who rely on food pantries to stave off hunger
and malnutrition, and his own personal hunger journey to illuminate how nearly
35 million Americans can go hungry everyday.

The author documents the
stories of the elderly, the middle-aged, and the young--from the inner city to
rural America--to show how today’s frayed social safety nets, rising
unemployment, gas prices and soaring health and housing costs have driven
families to choose between putting food on the table or paying off medical bills
and paying rent.

In the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich, Abramsky also
uses his personal experiment with hunger to better illustrate the conditions
that he witnessed in his writing of the book. He chronicles the near-impossible
financial balancing act required to secure enough food to survive, and vividly
details the psychological and physical impact of hunger, interweaving his
observations and feelings throughout the book.

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Abramsky also provides a
political and economic analysis of public policies that have directly
contributed to America’s hunger epidemic. He draws startling comparisons between
today’s crisis with the shantytown, "Hooverville" days of the Great Depression.
He addresses the severe inequities originating from the "trickle-up effect" of
the Reagan years, when inadequate government aid programs left countless
families behind. He takes issue with the "constricted" government definitions of
poverty and a federal measurement rooted in 1950s living standards; states' food
stamp programs that fail to cover one-in-three (or 10 million individuals) of
those who are poor enough to qualify; and labor practices by big-box retailers
and industrial corporations that depress wages, restrict benefits and squander
hard-earned pensions and savings for millions of Americans.

SOME OF THE
NUMBERS FROM BREADLINEUSA:

  • In 2008, the official poverty line was $ 10,590 for a single person and
    $21,203 for a family of four. Census data shows 37 million Americans at or below
    these numbers.
  • From 2000 through 2007, as corporate profits grew 2.5% per year, median
    income for working-age households fell by 0.6 %--with African Americans and
    Latinos experiencing greater losses.
  • In 2008, 28.4 million Americans were receiving food stamps.. In New York
    City, 1.1 million residents were on food stamps; 700,000 more were eligible but
    not enrolled.
  • A single person on food stamps in mid-2008 received an average of $26 per
    week and a maximum of $40 in vouchers.
  • From 2002 to 2007, the USDA cut its food contribution to the state of
    California from 97 million pounds to 39 millions pounds.
  • In the 1950’s, one in three Americans worked a manufacturing job with fair
    wages, benefits and secure pensions. By 2007, that number declined to one in
    10.
  • By 2008, America’s 499 billionaires owned over $1.5 trillion in assets,
    equivalent to the average annual salaries of approximately 30 million of the
    country’s workers.

    "The failures of our policies that led to this epidemic of hunger and poverty
    are evident across the country. Unemployment, lack of benefits, and wage
    cutbacks by major employers are forcing families to the food pantries," said
    Abramsky. "People like food pantry staffers George and Billy MacPherson are
    first hand witnesses to the pain caused by failures of the system. Workers like
    Aubretia Edick are skimping on food because Wal-Mart and many other large
    companies continue to pay employees so little."

    “Many of these families
    were pushed over the financial edge before the recession, and their experience
    and numbers will only worsen now. They’re invisible, and they ought not to be
    any longer.”