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.

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.


  • 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.”