A new report released last week by the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service found that while the percentage of American’s experiencing food insecurity has gone down, the risk of hunger in the United States is still high, with potentially devastating impacts.
12.7 percent of children and adults in 2015 did not have consistent access to the amount of food necessary to sustain a healthy diet; that numbers out to around 15.8 million households. While food insecurity is on the decline from 14 percent of Americans in 2014, it is still above the pre-recession rate of 11.1 percent in 2007. In addition, 5 percent of Americans, or 6.3 million households, could be described as having very low food security in 2015.
A large brunt of this economic hardship is falling on teenagers who turn to unconventional and sometimes illegal means in order to access food. A recent focus group study by the Urban Institute found that teenage girls are resorting to “transactional dating” as a way to offset the food insecurity at home. Teenage participants from areas ranging from inner city Chicago and Los Angeles to rural North Carolina and eastern Oregon are reporting the same patterns: teenage girls exchanging sex with older men and peers for access to food.
“It’s a sexual exploitation. You hear about homeless teenagers engaging in transactional sex, you hear it about refugees,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who authored the report. “To hear it from stably housed kids in the United States is shocking and even if it’s only a handful of kids, it should be something that we’re paying attention to, that there are kids that desperate.”
There are twelve states in which the struggle with food insecurity is greater than the national average. In Texas, a state which recently ended a program that helped low-income families pay their electric bills, one in six families are forced to choose between putting food on the table and financing other expenses. Those most at risk of food insecurity are African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, single-parent households and households in rural communities.