As a whole, Americans do not spend much money on food. The USDA estimates that in 2009, Americans spent only 9.4% of disposable income on food. Some believe that there is little cultural value tied to food in the US, and others say we have a system that rewards cheap food. While this may be part of why we don't spend much on food, the more likely explanation is that on average, we have more money. Engel's law tells us that as income goes up, people spend less of a proportion of their income on food. The statistics are misleading though. Despite our wealth, hunger is a very real problem in the United States.
Amber Waves, a publication of the Economic Research Service of the USDA, estimated that in 2010 14.5% of households, or 48.8 million people in the United States were food insecure at some point during the year and over ⅓ of these, 5.4% of households, were very food insecure. An alarming 16.2 million of the nation's children lived in households that were food insecure. A household is considered food insecure if at some point they didn't know if they were able to access enough food to maintain their eating patterns. Those with very low food security had at least one household member who had to change their eating patterns during the year because of a lack of resources.
While these figures are shocking, they are not new. The percent of food insecure households has remained unchanged after a spike in 2008. What has changed is nutrition assistance spending. USDA statistics give us some valuable insight. In 2010 the USDA spent $95.4 billion on food and nutrition assistance. This was a 20.5% increase from 2009. More people than ever are now participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also known as food stamps. Participation is up 70% over the last 4 years and now, 15% of the population receives assistance through SNAP. In order to qualify for the SNAP program, a person's income has to be less than 130% of the poverty line. For an individual, this translates to a gross income of $1,180 or less each month.
As the Minnesota winter drags on, we encourage you to think about the many organizations that need volunteers and food pantries that need fresh, healthy food. Hunger effects not only the hungry, but society. According to the University of Minnesota Cost/Benefit Hunger Impact Study, the direct and indirect costs of hunger in Minnesota range from 1.26 to 1.62 billion dollars each year. Helping to end hunger in Minnesota and throughout the country and world is an investment in our future.