Millions still hungry
First the good news: Sonoma County unemployment fell to 8.3 percent in May, as county employers added some 2,800 jobs in the space of a month. That’s the lowest jobless rate since the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008.
Now the bad news: According to a report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, an estimated 51,000 adults in Sonoma County could not afford to put adequate food on the table during the official recession span from 2007 to 2009. The report also revealed that, statewide, nearly four million California adults, prominently including households with children as well as low-income Latinos, experienced food insecurity.
Food insecurity is defined as not having enough food or not having enough income to ensure a balanced diet.
In 2009, said the report, about one in six low-income Californians had “very low food security,” which describes multiple instances in which people had to cut their food intake and experienced hunger. That’s double the one-in-12 figure from 2001.The UCLA study is based on data from the California Health Interview Survey.
Food insecurity skyrocketed when California’s unemployment rate increased from 5 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2009. On top of that, inflation-adjusted median household income dropped by nearly 5 percent from 2009 to 2010, the largest decline on record, according to the study.
And, the study suggests, many California families may still be struggling. According to co-author Gail Harrison, a professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, “With the economy still in a slump, many families are grappling with difficult choices: ‘Do I pay the bills or buy food to feed my children?’ In a state that is the nation’s breadbasket, it’s sad to see that so many people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
The ongoing hunger issue may be exacerbated if Congress follows through on passage of the Farm Bill, a Senate version of which contains $4.5 billion in cuts to benefits provided by SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (what we used to call food stamps).
The UCLA study includes these important findings:
Nearly half of low-income households with children could not afford sufficient food, and approximately 51 percent of Spanish-speaking, low-income adults experienced food insecurity.
From 2001 to 2009, the inability to buy sufficient food rose among all low-income groups, including people who were married (an increase of 29 percent to 40 percent) and those who were employed (28 percent to 43 percent).
Food insecurity increased in most California counties between 2007 and 2009. Northern Bay Area counties experienced a 14 percent increase, and in Southern California counties other than Los Angeles, there was a 10 percent increase.
Only people enrolled in SNAP, called CalFresh in California, did not experience an increase in food insecurity.
The study noted that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased SNAP payments more than 15 percent, but will expire in 2013.
These are sobering conclusions, a look inside the basement of the California economy and a reminder that the welfare of millions around the state, remains precarious.