A 21st Century Journalism Project

Growing up Hungry

In Defining The Problem on March 1, 2012 at 1:33 am


Alison is a nursing student. She looks for work all day and goes to school at night. She’s also the mother of two young girls. She struggles to put food on the table.

Alison’s story is not unique. The epidemic of childhood hunger among working poor families all over the U.S. plagues the hearts, minds, and stomachs of thousands of children every year.

There is no common definition for the working poor in America. But the government defines‘ it as “persons who spent at least 27 weeks in the past year in the labor force working or looking for work, but whose incomes fall below the official poverty level.” They either look for work in vain or just don’t make enough at the job they have to support themselves and their families.

40 percent of working poor families include children. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was written to help struggling families get out of poverty. But fifteen years later, people are still living in poverty.

Much like Alison, who worries about where the money for both food and bills is going to come from next, many working poor families often have to choose between paying their bills and eating. The Second Harvest Food Bank in conjunction with Hunger in America reported in 2011 that more than one third of people surveyed couldn’t pay for both their utilities and heating fuel. It also reported that nearly half of people surveyed had trouble paying for gas or transportation. Furthermore, more than a quarter of people surveyed had to choose between paying their rent and eating.

working poor in soup line

The cost of living continues to rise. The group of people affected the most by this are our nation’s children.

Alison’s oldest daughter is five years old and about to start school. She worries that her daughter won’t do well in school because of nutritional difficulties at home. Much like Alison’s daughters, one out of every six kids doesn’t have enough to food to eat on a daily basis. This can lead to poor cognitive function that impacts performance in school and their ability to succeed later in life. It also affects their social, physical, emotional, and psychological well-being as well.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that a lack of food impairs both social skills and the ability to read in school-aged girls. Research from Cornell University and the University of South Carolina found that food insecurities impair relationships between parents and their children, which lead to more relationship issues later on in life. Children that suffer from a lack of food have near inabilities to concentrate because they are distracted by hunger.

Out of the households surveyed by Hunger in America, 81 percent of the families with children worried that they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. 6 percent of participants reported having children under the age of five.

12 percent of people surveyed say there was no money for food after they paid their bills. The numbers of hungry children up by a 5 percent since 2006, Alison a mother of a five year old and a two year old is all too familiar with this struggle.

Considering the rising cost of child care items, food often gets forgotten amongst all of the other costs. When families struggle with food insecurities they often seek out food banks as a source of nutritional support.

In the video Feeding America Real Hunger Stories: Alison, Alison visits a food pantry for the first time. It’s a roller coaster of emotions for her. She’s sad because she can no longer provide for her children, but grateful to the people at the food pantry who help her through these tough times.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania serves 11 counties in western PA. It provides 8.3 million pounds of food per year and serves more than 21,000 children. Out of the 8.3 million pounds of food distributed annually, more than a quarter comes from Feeding America while less than percent is donated by local communities through food drives and door-to-door food collection. The majority of the food collected goes to food pantries and other programs provided for by the Second Harvest Food Bank, including a much smaller portion that goes to soup kitchens and shelters.

The government, as well as nonprofit organizations, provides food programs for school-age children. Hunger in America reported that 80 percent of homes with children take part in the school lunch program, which provides free or reduced price lunches during school. 74 percent of households with children participate in the school breakfast program and 24 percent take part in the summer food program provided by the government. These food subsidies provide food in order to curb child hunger.

backpack program

Despite the help provided by the Second Harvest Food Bank as well as other organizations, child hunger continues to be a problem nationwide. Schools do their best to make sure students receive adequate meals, but when student’s return home, the luxury of a hot meal is not a guarantee. Parents such as Alison do their best to provide all they can for their children. Sometimes, their best isn’t enough to make ends meet.


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