This is a dream and a serious campaign launched by Second Harvest Heartland, Hunger Solutions Minnesota and the Greater Twin Cities United Way. As an invited contributor to this project, I had the privilege of working with Professor Elton Mykerezi to construct the Cost/Benefit Hunger Impact Study identifying the payoff to investing in programs and activities that will help to end hunger in Minnesota. The study revealed the unnecessary disruption hunger plays in our community, specifically costing Minnesotans upwards of $1.62 billion annually in direct and indirect health and educational expenses as well as lost wages. About half of this cost is born by public funds. Eliminating these costs will save tax payer money, help lower the state budget deficit, decrease health care costs, and increase the health and welfare of millions of Minnesotans.
The pervasive effects of hunger range from physical illness and educational costs to lost wages and productivity. Direct and indirect medical expenses result from likely emergency room visits and childhood maladies such as iron deficiency. Those who are ill and cannot work incur costs to themselves in lost wages and to their employers in lost productivity. We spend almost $59 million annually to help treat children and teens for hunger-induced psychological problems. Hungry children and adults do not concentrate and perform well in school or on the job and hungry children are more likely than well-fed students to drop out of school.
Earlier studies at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank and the University of Minnesota's early childhood education programs have illustrated very positive returns from investments in children's education - payoffs for individual children and for the community - but I argue that a precursor to effective early childhood education is being well-fed. Ending hunger and promoting early childhood education go hand in hand for the welfare of all Minnesotans.
The newly released 2010 Hormel Hunger Study, found that nine out of ten Americans agree that reducing the number of hungry children benefits the community. The study has been conducted by Hormel Foods for several years, prompted by their leadership's interest in this issue. This year's results find that hunger has increased; one in four Americans say they or someone they know has had to make a choice between buying food for their family and paying their bills. Companies like Hormel Foods and organizations like Second Harvest Heartland, with thousands of volunteers and food donations, continue working toward alleviating this hunger. Public policies, however, that reduce unemployment and poverty will be needed if we want to reduce the members of our community who go hungry and boost the numbers of healthy, educated children and healthy, productive adults. This is an economic issue. This is a humanitarian issue. It is our collective issue.