Food Woes: Political jabs will not solve problems

Among the most basic worries for families is having enough money to afford to feed everyone in the household. According to the Food Research and Action Center, the inability to do so is called food hardship. The center conducts an annual study on food hardship rates across the country, then reports on both states and metropolitan statistical areas.

In 2017 the national food hardship rate was 15.7 percent, up from 15.1 percent in 2016; the rate for households with children was 18.4 percent in 2017, up from 17.5 percent in 2016.

Predictably, the three worst states for families facing food hardship in 2017 were Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia (20.3 percent). Ohio ranked 18th, at 16.2 percent. But when the focus is switched to MSAs, there is a surprise. Bakersfield, Calif., and Fresno, Calif., were ranked 1st and 3rd respectively. The Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, Ohio-Pa., area was ranked 2nd. The Bakersfield MSA has a 23.2 percent food hardship rate. Nearly one quarter of households in that part of California have difficulty affording enough to eat.

“Too many people in every region, state, and community have been left behind in the economic recovery from the Great Recession, and are still struggling to put food on the table,” said Jim Weill, president of the center.

Unfortunately, the center’s analysis of the raw data in the report included some political jabs, lamenting alleged attacks against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, school meals, and Medicaid. It is a shame. Some good could come from this kind of information if policy makers felt free to interpret it in an effort to find real solutions, rather than make political statements.

Surely Weill and his colleagues understand the folks in places like Youngstown-Warren-Boardman have been looking for even the glimmer of an economic recovery since long before the Great Recession began in 2007-08. Public policy has been failing them for decades. And, in fact, nationwide the rates were at their height (since the study began) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — 18.6, 18.2 and 18.9 percent. The figure for last year is actually the second LOWEST rate since the study began.

Still, the Food Research and Action Center’s goal “to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States” is an admirable one. We will come closer to reaching it, however, only when there is realistic talk about solutions that goes beyond political talking points.