1 in 10 Minnesotans faces hunger, rate flat despite job gains

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It's harvest time in agriculture-rich Minnesota, but a new government report serves as a reminder that one in 10 residents in the state goes hungry.

The annual "Household Food Security in the United States" study, released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, finds that on average from 2011-13, 10.8 percent of Minnesotans lacked consistent access to food needed to stay healthy (they were "food insecure," by the report's definition).

The report also found that 4.4 percent of households had "very low food security," in which the "food intake of one or more members was reduced and eating patterns disrupted because of insufficient money."

Minnesota fares better than many states in its hunger rate. The report notes Minnesota was among the 14 states with food insecurity rates lower than the national average.

North Dakota had the lowest rate of food insecurity at 8.7 percent, and Arkansas had the highest at 21.2 percent, the report says.

Hunger rate flat despite job gains

Nationwide, 14.3 percent of citizens were food insecure at least some time during 2013, including 5.6 percent with very low food security, the report says. In real numbers, that was roughly 17.5 million families — or 1 in 7 — who were food insecure in 2013, down just slightly from 17.6 million in 2012.

Anti-hunger groups argue that the fact that so many families are still struggling, even as the economy improves, suggests more needs to be done to assist them, NPR reported.

“These numbers reinforce the importance of strengthening both federal anti-hunger programs and charitable food assistance. Economic recovery remains elusive for many low-income families. It’s unacceptable that so many of our neighbors, friends and families don’t have enough food for themselves or their families,” said Bob Aiken, CEO of Feeding America, a nationwide food bank network.

USDA social science analyst Alisha Coleman-Jensen, one of the USDA report's authors, said recent job market gains have been offset by higher food prices. She also noted the majority of households that have grappled with food insecurity include at least one adult who is working. The Duluth News Tribune reports a separate study by Feeding America found more than half of the Northland residents seeking food assistance from one of the area’s biggest food banks actually have jobs.

Another troubling report in the Fargo Forum this week noted more than 66,700 people in North Dakota and Clay County, Minnesota, sought help from food pantries and meal programs last year – a 38 percent rise since 2009.

Slate noted the report marks the sixth year in a row more than 14 percent of households nationwide have suffered from food insecurity, and the number hasn't fallen much since the end of the recession.

In fact, in Minnesota, the number ticked up slightly to a 10.8 percent average in 2011-13, from 10.6 percent for 2010-2012.

Slate correspondent Jordan Weissmann notes that if there is any good news to be found in the data, it's that hunger is rarely chronic – low-income families tend have difficulty buying food during certain lean times of the year, or at the end of a month when government assistance benefits run low. (The number of Americans using food stamps was 46.2 million in May, down from a record 47.8 million in December 2012, the Wall Street Journal noted.)

"Still, that makes it no less a shame that so many families face the threat of hunger in a country this rich," Weissmann writes.

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