Nearly one in four children in the United States lived in a home that suffered from food insecurity in 2008, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In total, 16.7 million children, or 22.5 percent, were from families that had difficulty putting enough food on the table last year. That's 4.3 million more children than in 2007.
"Child hunger is not just a casualty of the recession," commented the Rev. David Beckmann, president of the Christian anti-poverty group Bread for the World, in response to the data. "It was a problem before the recession, and unless we take the necessary steps, kids will continue to suffer after the economy recovers."
In making his point, Beckmann pointed to record high participation in the federally-funded food assistance program called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) as a barometer of food security. More than 36 million people – half of them children – received SNAP benefits in August 2009 – a 24 percent increase compared to August 2008.
The new USDA data also shows more than one in seven, or over 49 million American households, suffered from food insecurity in 2008. The figure – an 11 percent increase from 2007 – represents the largest one-year increase since the USDA first began publishing data on food security in 1995.
President Obama described the report as "unsettling" and said he was particularly troubled by the finding that children in 500,000 U.S. families experienced hunger multiple times last year.
"Our children's ability to grow, learn, and meet their full potential – and therefore our future competitiveness as a nation – depends on regular access to healthy meals," Obama said in a statement.
Obama said the first response to reversing the current trend of U.S. hunger is to "restore job growth." He also said his administration will increase help for low-income families that need food assistance, especially those with children.
In Beckmann's remarks, the anti-poverty leader noted that the recession has made the problem of hunger worse, but also said it has also made it more visible.
"Increased public awareness and the administration's commitment gives me hope," he stated. " To end hunger, our leaders need to strengthen nutrition programs and provide steady jobs that allow parents to escape the cycle of poverty and feed their families for years to come."
Beckmann is calling for the renewal of U.S. Child Nutrition programs, scheduled to take place early next year.