OUR OPINION: Food insecurity must be addressed in U.S.

By NEMS Daily Journal

The AARP’s findings in a recently published report that 13.79 percent of Mississippians ages 50-59 face “food insecurity” is disturbing but not surprising given the demographic liabilities (poverty, under-education, unemployment and factors compounded by systemic racial factors) shaping our state.
AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is among the largest and best organized special advocacy organizations in the world, and its effectiveness rises in part from knowing its constituency.
Conditions leading to food insecurity range from abject poverty, emotional distress, mental illness, and infirmity to outright neglect.
Galen Holley’s reporting last week shed light on how widespread the problem is in Northeast Mississippi – and numerous programs operating to feed the food-challenged at least part of the time.
The 160-plus-page scholarly, analytical report from which AARP drew it conclusions was produced by researchers at the University of Kentucky and pinpointed information applicable to rural regions like Northeast Mississippi.
• Rates of food insecurity, the statistical measurement of hunger among rural households is generally lower than urban households, but slightly higher than the national average.
• Challenges facing rural areas differ from metro/urban areas in several significant ways because employment is more concentrated in low-wage industries, unemployment and underemployment are greater, education levels are lower, and work-support services, such as flexible and affordable child care and public transportation, are less available.
“The fact that so many people need to turn to a food bank or church pantry just to eat in the very same communities where the food is raised is a sad reminder of how much more needs to be done,” the researchers noted.
Nationwide, 14.2 percent of rural households are food insecure, an estimated 2.8 million households. Compared to all regions, the South continues to have the highest poverty rate among people in families with related children under 18 years.
In fact, most food insecure counties are more likely to be located in rural areas than in metropolitan areas. “most food insecure counties” is defined as the 318 counties that fall within the top 10 percent of all U.S. counties.
It is significant how much the recession of 2007 and afterward impacted hunger increases:
• The increases were most pronounced among 40-49 year olds, followed by 50-59 year olds, and then those 60 and older.
• Food insecurity for 40-49 year olds increased an astounding 68 percent between 2007-2009 compared to 38 percent for 50-59 year olds; and,
The levels of food insecurity among the poor and near poor are two to three times higher in any given year than for the general population of those over age 50.
One of the most interesting facts in the study was a finding that hunger after 2007 was more dramatic in the higher income distribution.
Mississippi’s issue
The more important gap, the one hanging around Mississippi’s neck, is that while there is a distinct age gap in rates of food insecurity, it is about half the size of the gap across race and ethnicity. Seven of the 10 states with the highest rates of food insecurity are in the South. among 40-49 year olds, six are in the South among 50-59 year olds, and eight are in the South Of these states three overlap the age groups: Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas.
Inexplicably, President Obama, the supposed champion of fairly allocating resources, for the first time has not proposed an increase for nutrition programs. Obama needs to feel some heat from Mississippi and its congressional delegation – House and Senate.
The appropriate rallying cry might be, “Yes, we can – feed hungry Mississippians.”