Ground Breaking Report Reveals Economic and Social Costs of Hunger in America

October 05, 2011

Washington D.C. – Today, the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University released a ground breaking report detailing the social and economic costs of hunger in America.  The report, “Hunger in America, Suffering We All Pay For,” finds that in addition to federal expenditures to address hunger, the social and economic costs of hunger and food insecurity were $167.5 billion in 2010.  The report calls this cost America’s hunger bill.  In 2010, America’s hunger bill cost every American $542 annually due to the far-reaching impact of hunger.

The report indicates that the number of food insecure and hungry Americans jumped by 30% from 2007, before the onset of the recession, to 2010, the latest data available.  In that same period, the cost of hunger, above federal expenditures, rose by more than 33%. 

Prof. Donald Shepard of Brandeis University, the principal author of this report, commented: “This increase in food insecurity and America’s hunger bill over these three years demonstrates the breadth of suffering associated with this recession.  All Americans bear a part of these costs, and all of us will benefit when this burden is reduced.”

The report isolates three major costs that society bears due to rising rates of hunger and food insecurity: illness, poor educational outcomes and the costs of charity.  Hungry Americans are ill more frequently than other Americans.  The resulting cost, including the demands they place on the health care system, was approximately $130.5 billion in 2010, making poor health the largest factor in America’s hunger bill.

With respect to education, the report finds that poor educational outcomes due to hunger cost society $19.2 billion.  Putting this expenditure in context, it is more than three times the level of federal funding provided for the nutrition assistance program aimed at young children and their mothers known as the WIC program (FY 2011 appropriation was $6.6 billion).  Co-author Elizabeth Setren added: “Specifically, this report finds that $6.4 billion in special education costs could be avoided by making sure no child was hungry or food insecure.”

“Hunger in America, Suffering We All Pay For” also estimates the cost of charitable donations needed to support emergency food programs across the nation.  On top of federal funds for commodities and other emergency food support, $17.8 billion in private donations of food, money, and volunteer time went to meet the emergency food needs of the 48.8 million Americans who confront hunger and food insecurity.

Donna Cooper, Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress and co-author of the report explained the report’s findings, “Every American has a real stake in driving down the numbers of hunger and food insecure Americans.  Hunger may not be obvious in America but this less visible consequence of rising unemployment, flat wages and growing poverty is becoming a real cost for every American household.”

Estimates of the hunger bill at the state level show that Florida, California and Maryland saw the cost of hunger rise the most during the recession.  The cost of hunger rose in every state, but fifteen states saw their hunger bill rise by nearly 40% compared to the national increase of 33% from 2007 to 2010.  Twelve states were members of the Billion Dollar Club, where the state’s hunger bill increased by over $1 billion over those three years.  Their costs and increases, in billions of 2010 dollars, are as follows: 

State Cost 2007 Total 2010 Increase 2007-2010 Percent Increase 2007-2010

 1 California

$13.34

$19.63

$6.29

47%

 2 Florida

$7.24

$11.72

$4.48

62%

 3 Texas

$12.10

$16.04

$3.94

33%

 4 New York

$7.09

$9.28

$2.19

31%

 5 Ohio

$5.21

$6.97

$1.76

34%

 6 Illinois

$4.51

$6.07

$1.56

35%

 7 Georgia

$4.68

$6.20

$1.52

32%

 8 Pennsylvania

$4.76

$6.12

$1.37

29%

 9 North Carolina

$4.14

$5.44

$1.30

31%

10 Washington

$2.68

$3.85

$1.17

44%

11 Arizona

$2.93

$3.96

$1.03

35%

12 Michigan

$4.50

$5.51

$1.01

22%

Cooper noted, “Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, School Breakfast and Lunch and the Women’s Infants and Children Nutrition program cost nearly $95 billion.  These programs are essential but still insufficient to meet the need of millions of American to reliably afford to buy food for themselves or their families. Federal efforts to increase wages, employment and nutritional support to low wage families are the key components needed to push the hunger bill as close to zero as possible.”

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