Pennsylvania ?s Hunger and Food Insecurity Numbers Rise

Posted by on February 3, 2006

[posted from PA Nutrition Education listserv]

Pennsylvania ?s Hunger and Food Insecurity Numbers Rise
?Congress and the White House Urgently Need to Address Weakening of Safety Net.?

(Harrisburg, PA) Pushed from the public?s attention by disasters, indictments, court nominations and war, the silent scourge of hunger in America is nevertheless growing. That is the key finding in a report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

According to the report, Household Food Security in the United States ? 2004, the national prevalence of food insecurity rose in 2004 to 11.9 percent of American households, up from 11.2 percent in 2003. That?s 38 million individuals who lived in households that during at least part of the previous 12 months were uncertain of having and unable to acquire adequate food to meet basic needs. This is an increase of nearly two million individuals from 2003.

In one-third of food insecure households (3.9 percent of all households), the situation was so severe that one or more members were hungry during the 12 months preceding the survey. On average, households that experienced hunger did so during eight or more months during the year.

Here in Pennsylvania, this latest study showed that 10.2 percent of Pennsylvania households, encompassing 1.4 million individuals, experienced food insecurity. This is the worst result for Pennsylvania in the 10 years that the USDA has been collecting and reporting food security data. Six years ago Pennsylvania?s rate of food insecurity (8.3 percent) was 6 th lowest in the U.S. This most recent study puts the State at 19 th best, toward the middle of the pack.

Along with neighbors Michigan and Ohio, Pennsylvania is one of eleven states that experienced increases in food insecurity of over 20 percent during the past three years. This suggests a link between rising food insecurity and the loss of family-sustaining jobs, a trend most pronounced in states that formerly had many industrial jobs.

Hunger also is up in Pennsylvania, from 2.2 percent of households in 2001 and 2.6 percent of households in 2003 to 2.9 percent in 2004. Approximately 140,000 households experienced this more severe condition; 336,000 individuals lived in those households.

Berry Friesen , executive director of the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center stated, ?Several weeks ago we all saw hunger and despair on our TV screens in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Hidden away, this same desperate reality is part of the everyday lives of too many of our Pennsylvania neighbors. Until living wages are paid to our workers and federal food programs are fully implemented across the Commonwealth, I?m afraid Pennsylvania will continue to slide toward mediocrity on this vital index of economic well-being.?

During the 1990s the U.S. government committed itself to cutting hunger in half in twenty years ? by 2015.The annual USDA food security studies were instituted to track progress toward reaching that goal. This latest study shows that virtually no progress has been achieved. According to the authors of the report, ?Prevalence rates of food insecurity and food insecurity with hunger trended upward from 1999 to 2004, returning to about the same levels at which they were first measured in 1995.?

?This is an unexpected and even stunning outcome,? said Dr. Larry Brown, director of the Center on Hunger and Poverty at Brandeis University. ?This chronic level of hunger so long after the recession ended means that it is a man-made problem. Congress and the White House urgently need to address growing income inequality and the weakening of the safety net in order to get this epidemic under control.? For further comments from Dr. Brown, see

Hunger Action?s analysis of the USDA data shows that the steepest and most consistent decline in food security occurred among households with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of poverty. Among these households, food insecurity increased steadily from 15 percent to 22 percent in just four years (2000 ? 2004). This is a clear indication that hunger is becoming a problem for a growing number of households in which a member has a job and is earning wages.

Additional opportunities to learn about food insecurity and hunger in Pennsylvania are available by calling the Pennsylvania Hunger Action Center at 717-233-6705 or by visiting To read the full USDA study, go to

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