Going hungry in the USA
November 17, 2009 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Almost 15 percent of US households are "food insecure". Last year, nearly 17 million children, or 22.5 per cent, lived in households in which food at times was scarce - 4 million children more than the year before. And the number of youngsters who sometimes went hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.

"This is unthinkable. It's like we are living in a Third World country,'' said Vicki Escarra, president of Feeding America, the largest organisation representing food banks and other emergency food sources.

James Weill, president of the Washington-based Food Research and Action Centre, said: ''It's frankly just deeply upsetting.''

As reported in Australia.
posted by wilful (78 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Speaking as an outsider who mostly knows about the USA through the prism of this website, I have to say that these statistics are mind-numbing for me. That much genuine poverty in the richest nation in the world? WTF?
posted by wilful at 9:48 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


That much genuine poverty in the richest nation in the world?

I see the problem here, and it's a common one. You've conflated "richest nation" with "nation with the highest concentration of wealth".
posted by Burhanistan at 9:54 PM on November 17, 2009 [12 favorites]


That much genuine poverty in the richest nation in the world? WTF?

1) Gini coefficient.

2) You have high expectations of the US. That's good, but really there's lots of poverty everywhere, even in the best countries. It's the ability of the welfare system to transfer wealth around that makes a difference. Goto 1.
posted by Sova at 10:02 PM on November 17, 2009


Almost 15 percent of US households are "food insecure".

HEY INSTEAD OF ASKING 4 HANDOUTS JUST SELL UR IPODS THAT I DON'T KNOW YOU HAVE OK

/just getting in the inevitable hurf durf
posted by Avenger at 10:03 PM on November 17, 2009


My church runs a food shelf and the increase in need has been kind of shocking to observe. I don't even know what to say about it, the very idea of being unable to give my child as much food as he needs is devastating and I can't really think objectively about the subject. It certainly puts my stupid "problems" in perspective. Please make donations to hunger relief in your community if you can.
posted by nanojath at 10:22 PM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


Obesity and hunger are rising in the US at the same time?
posted by rmmcclay at 10:25 PM on November 17, 2009


"When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich. " - Rousseau
posted by wilful at 10:29 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


And this is why we have free breakfast and lunch at schools.
posted by whoaali at 10:34 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


In the first nine months of this year, the firm [Goldman Sachs] set aside about $17 billion for bonuses and other compensation.

Let's see, 9 months is about 275 days. 17 billion / 17 million is 1000. $1000 / 275 is $3.64. You can give a kid a good meal for $3.64, particularly if you're cooking. So basically, GS is paying in bonuses pretty much the exact amount it would cost to every give ever food-insecure kid in America meal every day during the same period.

Just sayin'.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:34 PM on November 17, 2009 [29 favorites]


Phew. Pardon my typing, there. That should read "... pretty much the exact amount it would cost to give every food-insecure kid in America a meal every day during the same period."
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:36 PM on November 17, 2009


George_Spiggot beat me to it. Fucking obscene.
posted by maxwelton at 10:43 PM on November 17, 2009


The World Food Summit just finished yesterday in Rome, but only host Berlusconi of all the G8 leaders could be bothered to show up.
posted by Abiezer at 10:56 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's a funny thing. When I say funny I mean funny in the way that The Joker would say it was funny.

If the U.S. government bought a lottery ticket tomorrow and won, and then Obama said every cent of that money would be used to buy food for poor families, I am absolutely certain that the teabaggers would call him a socialist and denounce the move as "socialized shopping" or some equally asinine phrase. Now here's the funny part:

We could get...ten, twenty lottery tickets worth of money out of canceling bullshit military research projects *alone*. And the reason we don't is because everyone in D.C. is afraid of the people who would denounce socialized shopping if they got the chance. Americans live in a country where siphoning money from nonsense research about how to build a gun that best compensates for your tiny penis towards feeding children who don't get enough to eat is a political liability. I'm laughing and I don't know why because it's not funny.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 11:05 PM on November 17, 2009 [10 favorites]


Having one's eating patterns "disrupted" means something different in the U.S. than in Africa or India
posted by knoyers at 11:06 PM on November 17, 2009


"When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich. " - Rousseau
posted by wilful at 2:29 PM on November 18 [+] [!]

And this is why we have free breakfast and lunch at schools.
posted by whoaali at 2:34 PM on November 18 [+] [!]


Wednesday is Soylent Green day!
posted by armage at 11:35 PM on November 17, 2009


I'm not American but I grew up in poverty, and I can tell you that there were weeks where all I had to eat was toast and peanut butter (carbs & protein!) and air popped popcorn.

Cheap stuff. Kept me going in the puberty years.

My mother would deny it (memory likes to be kind), but there were days when I remember opening the cupboard and all that was there was a box of table salt.

Not a great place to be, for me or my mom. Thank god for food banks and Salvation Army hampers.
posted by aclevername at 11:48 PM on November 17, 2009 [4 favorites]


GS is paying bonuses pretty much the exact amount it would cost to give every food-insecure kid in America a meal every day during the same period.

Those bonuses are keeping people who would otherwise be gliding down the slopes of Chamonix nailed to their office chairs, generating wealth. Obviously, no one should starve, but this right should be defended by the government, not demanded from an unrelated corporation. It's not as if GS is making money on the backs of starving Americans.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:49 PM on November 17, 2009


Well, it's a choice that we as a country have made. We prefer endless wars for bogus reasons over feeding the children and providing health care to all of our citizens. Shock and awe beats out welfare almost every single time. And don't forget, Obama campaigned on expanding the war in Afghanistan, so I'm not sure he could be counted as an exception.

Simply, there is a very vocal segment of the voting public that is sickeningly ignorant and hateful. And most of the time they make fast and easy work of shouting down and drowning out the voices of reason. And the voices of compassion? They are vilified outright as communists, fascists, and other assorted enemies of democracy and capitalism. Even the poor are openly vilified in this country.

America will continue to decline, and the decline will continue to accelerate, so long as the Sarah Palins and Fox News types continue to exert significant influence on the tone and topics of debate. Conversely, the Democrats are just one charismatic president away from being completely directionless and ineffectual.

With the exception of one or two high profile issues a year, politicians generally only care about are the people writing their campaign checks: corporate funded lobbyists. And that won't change unless and until we have substantive campaign finance reform -- and when's the last time you heard any prominent politician mention that seriously?

Sorry starving kids, but nobody is going to care about you unless and until you're making 6 and 7 figures at an investment bank.
posted by Davenhill at 12:57 AM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I have to admit to having a real problem with this report. I can't help feel that America's "food insecurity" is not what most folks in the developing world would call hunger.

You have the reconcile the fact that the lowest income people are suffering disproportionately from obesity mainly because "Big Food" has excelled at bringing highly processed carbohydrate calories to the market at very low prices. If it's a question of genuine hunger it's simply not very expensive to find 2000 calories. How on the one hand can you have hungry people because they're poor while simultaneously having people who are obese because they're poor? Clearly the reasons have to go beyond simple lack of money or cost of food. So while you can beat your chest about banks making ridiculous bonuses - a pretty soft target, there's no reason to believe throwing money (whomever it belongs to) at the problem would make the least bit of difference.

While its terrible to think of kids being hungry, it tugs at the heart strings. I can't help but feel that this report is more about manipulating my emotions for political ends than about hunger.
posted by Long Way To Go at 1:14 AM on November 18, 2009


If it's a question of genuine hunger it's simply not very expensive to find 2000 calories.

I've been reading the methodology and so forth. I am ambivalent about it; I'm simply not convinced that a lot of the people it captures are, as you say, what most people would call hunger. Let me be clear that I am in no way denying that there is a real problem with poverty in the USA. But I don't like the way these statistics were arrived at. I'm going to keep digging at the methodology and such but I believe that they are sweeping a very broad group of people into the category of "food insecure".

As you say, eating too many calories is a much bigger problem for the poor in America than eating too few.
posted by Justinian at 1:25 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


We could get...ten, twenty lottery tickets worth of money out of canceling bullshit military research projects *alone*. And the reason we don't is because everyone in D.C. is afraid of the people who would denounce socialized shopping if they got the chance.

Nope, they don't do because those military projects provide money, via jobs, to lots of congressional districts and states, helping some children stay fed.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:43 AM on November 18, 2009


military projects provide money

Not a very ethical or efficient way to provide money to people though is it? There are plenty of things a government can spend its money on which don't have the purpose of perpetrating mass suffering and death, but those things don't tend to have the side effect of massive profits for functional sociopaths with political influence.
posted by asok at 4:15 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


No, this is not the same as famine in the Third World. That's why they have not called it "starvation" or "malnutrition".

Hunger experienced in the first world tends to be that of "food insecurity". That is, people don't always know where their next meal will come from, or miss meals. That doesn't mean that people don't eat, but that they are insecure in their food and will go without. The methodology involves asking people questions like "how often have you gone without meals because you didn't have money/food?"

To dismiss this real insecurity because there is also obesity is ignorant and blind. It's like saying that there can't be any floods - despite report of floods - because there is also drought. You can have floods in one place, and drought in another; or you can have floods and drought in the same place. In fact, too much flooding might wash away soil, worsening the drought later. Obesity isn't just about eating too many calories -- it's also about what your calories come from. Fructose calories (in sugar, etc) are put down to fat at a much higher rate than glucose calories. And people are more likely to gain weight in times of stress and disrupted sleep habits, regardless of caloric intake. An obese person can also be food insecure -- feast and famine is a reality of poverty. You do without towards the end of the month (without variety, without enough), so you binge at the beginning when you can, and then you starve again. Not falling into this habit requires a strength of mind that most middle class people wouldn't have either; they may think they do, but they haven't been tested. Irregular eating is bad for your health, and will help you gain more weight.
posted by jb at 4:52 AM on November 18, 2009 [28 favorites]


"there were weeks where all I had to eat was toast and peanut butter (carbs & protein!) and air popped popcorn... there were days when I remember opening the cupboard and all that was there was a box of table salt."

This is food insecurity. How many of us can say that we know what it is like to spend you growing years have nothing to eat some days but peanut butter and toast? Or worrying about what whether you would have anything? I spent only about 8 weeks like this when I was fifteen -- and even then I knew that there would be food when my dad got home in a few hours, because he had money but his cupboards were bare from being a bachelor unaccustomed to living with a hungry teenager (and who often missed breakfast and lunch - sometimes from laziness, but also from there being nothing you could pack to take). But it was still frightening enough that I have never allowed myself to be in a situation like that again, even to the point of overbuying food.

Thank you, aclevername, for posting your comment.
posted by jb at 5:00 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


But I don't like the way these statistics were arrived at. I'm going to keep digging at the methodology and such but I believe that they are sweeping a very broad group of people into the category of "food insecure".

I'm not sure why you don't like it (and I'm not sure why it's supposed to be relevant whether you "like it"), but what they're measuring here is not all that odd or hard to get a grasp on. They are measuring people who had to skip meals, people who could not get enough food, because they lacked money. And they found that there are nearly 50 million Americans who have been in this situation in recent years, and they tend to have at least one such incident in multiple months in a given year.

Maybe this is something that people have a hard time imagining if they are not in the situation - when was the last time you had to skip a meal because you could not afford it? I'll bet that no one who has actually been in that position will question the methodology here. More to the point, if this does it for you, when is the last time you couldn't afford to feed your child after paying the rent and the electricity? I mean, this is not "hmm, steak is $12 a pound, I guess I'll get chicken", this is malnutrition.

As you say, eating too many calories is a much bigger problem for the poor in America than eating too few.

The two problems are not so contradictory as they might seem. This study shows that there is a level of poverty in this country where people simply do not have consistent access to food. Given only slightly more money, it's true that strict access to calories is quickly remedied, but these are packed with processed carbohydrates, corn syrup and such, and saturated fat. When you take a step "up" in this situation you go from hunger rather quickly into obesity, with little window to get going on a healthy diet. If the study had focused instead on lack of access to healthy food like fresh fruits and vegetables, the number would've been way higher. But I can just imagine all the "hurf durf not everyone likes arugula!" commentary if they'd done that.
posted by rkent at 5:11 AM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


World Hunger Notes - United States.
posted by adamvasco at 5:19 AM on November 18, 2009


There isn't any tension between food insecurity and obesity (in fact, my guess is that both will rise and fall together, because of how your body will respond to feast/famine eating patterns). It's sort of like how honest-to-God famines, the kind where thousands of people die, tend to happen in places that are growing and exporting food -- it only looks like a contradiction if you don't know what is really going on.

At the same time, the local food banks are scrambling to find enough food because the supermarket supply chain has gotten much more efficient, and much less food goes to waste. Less wastage in the supply chains is a great thing -- but the overflow of that wastage was what kept food banks supplied for decades. Computerized warehouses and just in time supply chains don't provide the same excess food that the old way of doing things did.
posted by Forktine at 5:23 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


How on the one hand can you have hungry people because they're poor while simultaneously having people who are obese because they're poor?
Lots of reasons. As any bulimic can tell you, the binge/ starve cycle plays hell on your metabolism. When you periodically don't eat, your body goes into famine mode and slows down in order to preserve energy. Most binge/starve bulimics lose weight when they stop starving. Furthermore, when they have the opportunity to eat people who are hungry because they've skipped meals will fill up on something cheap, quick and filling in order to make the hunger stop, rather than taking the time to make healthier food. Finally, the food available to food insecure people is often not very healthy. There are many reasons that a person could sometimes go hungry and still be fat.

Of course food insecurity is not the same thing as starvation. It's still a huge problem, and it shouldn't happen in a country that has the resources to prevent it.
posted by craichead at 5:26 AM on November 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


Given only slightly more money, it's true that strict access to calories is quickly remedied, but these are packed with processed carbohydrates, corn syrup and such, and saturated fat.

This reminded me of the discussion of the "Hillbilly Housewife's" menu, which had variety and substance going for it, but was nutritionally questionable, due to reliance on foods like ramen and hot dogs. I thought that was a great discussion, not only because Maggie showed up here to discuss food costs, but also the time and access costs (see this discussion as well) of living on a tight budget. These are all factors that get in the way of people's ability to eat regular, cheap, healthy, satisfying meals while poor in America.
posted by EvaDestruction at 6:03 AM on November 18, 2009


Hunger in urban Ghana (an African country not experiencing famine) looks a lot like food insecurity and not at all like all those "starving African" commercials on television.

I knew a lot of people there I would call food insecure. They mostly ate, but they bought their food every day. If they had a day without money, they had to find other ways to eat or go without. Sometimes women had to choose who in the family would get fed (the ones I knew always choose husbands and children).

Even when they had food, they often ate low quality carbs, small bits of meat or fish and very few if any vegetables, with a lot of oil (mostly palm oil). One way to deal with food insecurity is to eat as much as possible when it's available and trust that the fat you make will carry you through the lean times. Among the food insecure adults I knew, very few were thin.

There are, of course, some very poor people with no income and no social network who are starving in the sense that people usually think of when they think of Africa. This is worse in areas of Ghana that are subject to flooding and draught (the North). But the vast majority of poor people are getting by day to day. What they don't have is the ability to withstand disasters: the loss of a few workdays; an illness of one of the adults; a downturn in the economy. From talks I've been to on microcredit, I understand that the majority of poor people in India also fall into this category.

As someone who has seen food insecurity up close both in Africa and at home (in Canada), I find it ignorant and, to me, cruel to suggest that food insecurity somehow doesn't deserve to be treated as a problem because it isn't the same as severe starvation. Ignorant of what hunger means both here and in so-called "third world" countries. And cruel because it is dismissive of a real problem both here and in other places, it paints the world in such broad strokes that a huge number of suffering people are eliminated from the picture.
posted by carmen at 6:14 AM on November 18, 2009 [13 favorites]


I blame Ronald Reagan. We used to have sympathy for the less fortunate in this country, but he convinced Americans that Welfare Queens were screwing over the middle class tax payer. To this day, a large segment of Americans believe that the poor do not really exist or if they do exist it is because they are shiftless and lazy and conniving. We have come to resemble Victorian Britain in that respect, right down to the Scrooge-like sentiment, "Better that they should die and be done with it, and decrease the surplus population."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:27 AM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Military budget of the People's Republic of China: $70.3 billion.
Military budget of Russia: $50 billion.
Military budget of the United States: $518.3 billion.
(All budgets for 2009.)

In 2008, the United States spent more than the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined and accounted for 48 percent of the world's total military spending. The US and its closest allies (the NATO countries, Japan, South Korea and Australia) accounted for 72 percent of the world's total military spending.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:28 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's like we are living in a Third World country.

In terms of wealth disparity, government corruption, health care, and the electoral system, America has been a Third World country for quite a while.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:51 AM on November 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


I am asking this question without any malice or snark intended. I promise. Please address it, if you choose, with that in mind.

I am curious as to what extent hunger in the US might be related to economic choices. For instance, many people now have cell phones. Though some of them have prepaid cell phones, others are locked into contracts. No one calls you from the grocery store when you haven't come in to buy food, but if you miss a payment on your cell phone, or your cable television, or on your car loan, you'll have no end to harassment and fees.

Is it possible that some hunger in the US is related to practices that encourage people to be roped into financial obligations they can't uphold?

This is not Republican trolling. I would appreciate legitimate critique of this question.
posted by jefficator at 8:02 AM on November 18, 2009


Is it possible that some hunger in the US is related to practices that encourage people to be roped into financial obligations they can't uphold?

Of course. If you live in a transit-poor section of the country, of which there are many, you have to have a car. If you don't make payments, they'll come take your car, and then you lose your job.

So if the choice is "enough food for the week" or "car payment" you might make that choice, and live on toast and peanut butter and skip meals the last few days before your next payday.

People make these choices every day. Sometimes my family has come very close to doing that. We hardly ever buy meat anymore (switched to beans, nuts, and cheese for protein) and try to buy in bulk. We cook as much as possible. Some weeks in the last year, though, I have not been entirely sure we have enough to feed two adults and a preschooler between today and the next payday, after paying for our one car, rent, phone, insurance, electricity, water, and internet (my husband works at home and that means internet is necessary). That doesn't even get into debt, which most people have, or parking tickets, or sudden medical expenses that can throw all your budget plans out the window.

We are not yet food insecure, because we have more resources than many, but we've come a lot closer to it in the last 12 months than I ever expected to.

But then, in my family, we have lots of stories of my mom collecting coke bottles to buy food when she was a single mother, or my grandfather, who shot rabbits and squirrels to help feed his siblings and didn't own a new pair of shoes until he was grown.
posted by emjaybee at 8:21 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Somebody's getting strangled by the system and its tentacles
Misconceptions raise questions to be solved
Alot of b-boys are broke, alot of homeless got jobs
You can make 8 bones an hour till you pass out and still be assed out
Most pyramid schemes don't let you cash out
They say this generation makes the harmony pray
But crime rises consistent with the povery rate
You take the workers and jobs, you're gonna have murders and mobs
A gang of preachers screamin sermons over murmurs and sobs
Saying pray for a change from the Lord above you
They'd tear this motherfucker up if they really loved you"

--The Coup: Underdogs

This song always makes me choke up.
posted by symbioid at 8:26 AM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was listening to a story about this yesterday, and the interviewer brought up a question about the difference between "hunger" and "food insecurity." While I can't find the quote from the interview I heard, I did find a good encapsulation of the reasons for differentiating the two terms and the definitions of each at FRAC.org, the nonprofit Food Research and Action Center.

Per FRAC:

In 2006, the USDA Economic Research Service asked the National Academies of Science to carry out an independent review of the survey methodology. They concluded that the survey and the methodology to measure food insecurity were appropriate and that it was important to continue monitoring food security. However, they felt that the descriptions of categories should be revised to better convey that it is a measure of household food insecurity.

As a result of the scientific panel’s review and subsequent recommendations, USDA introduced new labels for the survey results. These are intended to measure the full range of food insecurity as experienced by households. While the word hunger has been removed from the description of the results of the survey, it should not be interpreted that there has been a major shift in the incidence of hunger.

...

Very simply, hunger is defined as the uneasy or painful sensation caused by lack of food. When we talk about hunger in America, we refer to the ability of people to obtain sufficient food for their household. Some people may find themselves skipping meals or cutting back on the quality or quantity of food they purchase at the stores. This recurring and involuntary lack of access to food can lead to malnutrition over time.

Food security is a term used to describe what our nation should be seeking for all its people – assured access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life, with no need for recourse to emergency food sources or other extraordinary coping behaviors to meet basic food needs. In a nation as affluent as ours this is a readily achievable goal. Food insecurity refers to the lack of access to enough food to fully meet basic needs at all times due to lack of financial resources. There are different levels of food insecurity.


posted by Graygorey at 8:28 AM on November 18, 2009


Dang - didn't catch the third link in the original post. Phooey.
posted by Graygorey at 8:34 AM on November 18, 2009


I actually think that the concept of food insecurity is an old one, at least among the people who experienced it. When my mom talks about her father's dirt-poor childhood, she says "he never knew where his next meal was coming from," a phrase that I assume she got from him. That constant anxiety about whether you'll have the things you need to survive, rather than actual hunger, is the essence of food insecurity.
posted by craichead at 8:37 AM on November 18, 2009


I am curious as to what extent hunger in the US might be related to economic choices.

I couldn't tell from your profile where you are, but I'm going to assume you're from somewhere in Europe. You need to understand a couple of things re: cell phone, cable, car.

The public transportation situation in the US is a disaster. In most of the US, if you want to get a job, you need a car. If you want a car that is more or less reliable, then you're probably going to need a car loan if you're living paycheck to paycheck.

Ditto cell phone: If you want a job, you need a phone. Many people choose cell over landline now, for all sorts of reasons, but one reason is that if you're moving a lot (say, you keep getting evicted or you and your family are couch surfing) or if you already work multiple part time jobs, you need to have your phone in your pocket rather than have it be tied to a physical location.

So, yeah, these are economic choices. As is cable, actually, what with the US's recent (boneheaded) move to all-digital TV, turning off the "over the air" signal without a special adapter thingy that may or may not work the way you want it to. Got kids or an elderly/infirm person in your household? Getting rid of some form of cable may not be "optional" if you want to be able to keep them entertained and also if you want to keep up on the news.

But its so much more complex than that. Its also related to healthcare, and childcare, and education level, and the idea that in lots of places the "supermarket" isn't all that super -- charging inflated prices for low quality food. The Regan comment above is more or less spot on: at some time in the past few decades, America has decided to "blame the victim" for being in poverty, and has come to view being poor as a moral failing. Of course, the fact that we as a society don't provide people with the support structure or education they need to in order to be successful doesn't, for some reason, fall into it.
posted by anastasiav at 8:40 AM on November 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
posted by kirkaracha at 8:45 AM on November 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


Got kids or an elderly/infirm person in your household? Getting rid of some form of cable may not be "optional" if you want to be able to keep them entertained and also if you want to keep up on the news.

This is a silly comment. Of course TV is optional. Do you really think people were in agony before it was invented? If parents believe there's no way for children to be entertained without TV, they would especially benefit from not having one.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:03 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


A few people have mentioned how important phones and cars are in America, and that's true in my experience. I'm from eastern Kentucky, which is a really poor area of the country where people live very far apart, and if you can't drive, you can't work. Without a phone, you can't call/be called about getting work.

The infrastructure is just messed up here. Using the highways is the only option and the only way to do that is to buy a car, which means buying car insurance too, which is money that can't be spent on food, medical insurance, or adult education. Likewise, phones are important and also carry monthly costs, although I guess public libraries with internet access can be a limited alternative to a phone plan.

In short, you gotta have money to make money. In this day and age the U.S. government has not provided a sufficient quantity of bootstraps by which to pull ourselves up.
posted by edguardo at 9:45 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't help feel that America's "food insecurity" is not what most folks in the developing world would call hunger.

Oh, I guess those starvation striations on my bones weren't from REALLY being hungry as a child. I'll have to make sure and tell my siblings we weren't *actually* starving as children when we lived in abject poverty.

Abject poverty - it happens in America, too. Do you really think that family of four living out of their car are eating well?
posted by _paegan_ at 9:48 AM on November 18, 2009


This is a silly comment. Of course TV is optional.

Well, yes, its optional. My point was that in certain households it is, by far, the cheapest way to provide entertainment for the entire family ... and not only entertainment: also news.
posted by anastasiav at 9:53 AM on November 18, 2009


Those bonuses are keeping people who would otherwise be gliding down the slopes of Chamonix nailed to their office chairs, generating rather little but extracting quite a bit of wealth from the economy.

You left out a few words.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:56 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, yes, its optional. My point was that in certain households it is, by far, the cheapest way to provide entertainment for the entire family ...

How about a library card?

and not only entertainment: also news.

I'm sorry, but the idea that the poor need to spend money on cable TV in order to get news is just not a very sympathetic argument.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:15 AM on November 18, 2009


I'm sorry, but the idea that the poor need to spend money on cable TV in order to get news is just not a very sympathetic argument.

Truth. But the idea that the $29 a month for cable TV is what's making the difference in being able to feed a family is a red herring.

Compared to the cost of the car payments, gas, and insurance required to get and keep any sort of employment, the ruinous cost of health care and just rent and power, that cost isn't worth discussing.
posted by tyllwin at 10:32 AM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Truth. But the idea that the $29 a month for cable TV is what's making the difference in being able to feed a family is a red herring.

Tyllwin said it before I could. Basic cable where I live is $14.95 a month. That amount isn't going to bring a lot of food security.
posted by anastasiav at 10:42 AM on November 18, 2009


Library card sounds great, but it requires literacy (and generally literacy in English) and transportation to the library. You can't take for granted that poor people will have either.
posted by craichead at 10:55 AM on November 18, 2009


Those bonuses are keeping people who would otherwise be gliding down the slopes of Chamonix nailed to their office chairs, generating rather little but extracting quite a bit of wealth from the economy.

Bailouts aside, how is it possible to extract wealth without producing it through investment banking?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:40 AM on November 18, 2009


"there were weeks where all I had to eat was toast and peanut butter (carbs & protein!) and air popped popcorn... there were days when I remember opening the cupboard and all that was there was a box of table salt."

I am not an American and didn't grow up in the US, but this scene reminds me of my own childhood experience. While we were not in extreme poverty as so many in my country are, there was a period of about 1 or 2 years where my family fell on really hard times. My mother would make us rice pudding every day since it had things she thought nutritious: milk, rice, sugar. It was cheap (evaporated milk and powdered milk was all we could get in the city and it was cheap too) and sustained us. There would be maybe eggs or fish and vegetables for lunch, our main meal, then rice pudding for dinner...and breakfast. This rice pudding thing went on what it seems forever, every couple of weeks we would have bread pudding instead, made with all the bread leftover from the week. If there wasn't enough bread leftover, then it became breadcrumbs or croutons. Again, we weren't in extreme poverty and were even in a good position compared to so many, but I grew up in a developing country and witnessed hunger around us. People who do not know where their next meal will come from, children scrounging in the garbage for things that may be still edible. Horrors no one should have to go through.

If I got one thing out of all of this, is to not waste food. It seems cliche, but it truly pains me seeing food thrown away or going to waste. And not sharing.
posted by ratita at 11:47 AM on November 18, 2009


Bailouts aside, how is it possible to extract wealth without producing it through investment banking?

I won't pretend to know the details of Goldman Sachs as a particular case, espirit, but are you actually making the larger argument that an investment firm, in general, cannot extract wealth without producing it, being sarcastic, or defending GS in specific?
posted by tyllwin at 12:07 PM on November 18, 2009


Military budget of the United States: $518.3 billion.

Don't forget that the 'budget' per soldier deployed to Afgainistan is a cool $1 mil a pop.

via http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/us/politics/15cost.html?hp

The latest internal government estimates place the cost of adding 40,000
American troops and sharply expanding the Afghan security forces, as favored
by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in
Afghanistan, at $40 billion to $54 billion a year, the officials said.
Even if fewer troops are sent, or their mission is modified, the rough
formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier a year,
appears almost constant.

Now who here is willing to take $1 mil a year and let the American Public know about how well your hunt for Bin Ladin is going via say twitter?
posted by rough ashlar at 12:20 PM on November 18, 2009


But the idea that the $29 a month for cable TV is what's making the difference in being able to feed a family is a red herring.

That would be over $300 a year, and it was just one example that was given above.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:24 PM on November 18, 2009


My kids came home and opened the refrigerator after I'd just been to the grocery store recently. After seeing it full one of them exclaimed, "Man Dad, we're RICH!". Apparently my kids equate the abundance of food with being "rich" (even though as a single dad I struggle to keep the larder full and the bills paid).
posted by HyperBlue at 12:48 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


At some weird point in this thread, the assumption was made that the working poor or "food insecure" have cable. For the "food insecure" families I have known, that is not true.

For one thing, a "food insecure" family will have a terrible credit score. Among other things, this will mean that the cable company is going to require a huge deposit up front before hooking you up.

For another thing, a "food insecure" family is "bill insecure" as well. So even if they do scrape it together to get cable, after a few months they will miss a payment, and it will be turned off.

But wait, I found data!

Basic cable: 63.1 million
Digital cable: 41.5 million

That's 104.6 million Americans who have cable TV. However, there are 304 million Americans. In other words, 2/3rds of Americans do not have cable TV.
posted by ErikaB at 1:00 PM on November 18, 2009


Bailouts aside, how is it possible to extract wealth without producing it through investment banking?

Investment banking does not generate wealth. It reallocates wealth.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:04 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


That would be over $300 a year, and it was just one example that was given above.

The other examples given above were "car" and "cellphone," and no one seems to be arguing about the necessity of those (yet).

As for cable TV --

How many people suffering from food insecurity actually have cable TV, and actually made the choice to get cable TV rather than spend that money on food? The article is about a recent increase in food insecurity, meaning that many of these people were not insecure before. Discussing whether or not the decision is stupid seems, well, pointless, without knowing how many people actually made that decision.

Then there is also the punishing idea that the poor should only spend money on necessities, which comes across to me as... very judgmental.

I currently don't have cable, but if I was facing the choice of going hungry twice a month (that's worth about $14.95 in decent food, assuming the time and space to cook) or giving up a favorite entertainment, I would probably choose to skip the meals. Hunger is a serious issue, but then, so is enjoying life a little bit. Unwinding after a hard day at work to a favorite television show, or buying yourself some peace by parking demanding family members in front of the set, is worth a lot to some people.

Financial education for the poor is definitely needed, but the same people who demand the poor live monk-like existences in order to be not at fault for their poverty probably would fail to live up to those standards as well, if they were in the same situation.

I am not saying that you are one of these people, but the focus on cable TV as a cause of poverty reminds me a lot of the arguments they make.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:11 PM on November 18, 2009



That would be over $300 a year, and it was just one example that was given above.

Indeed it was. The other two examples were telephones and a car, which, like clean clothes, are basic pre-requisites for employment that makes minimum wage or better. So, we're left with cable TV, that some may have?

Sure. No doubt some do. I doubt most, but some. They could do without that. Spending that money implies that many of the working poor may not be perfect, that they give into an urge to spend a few dollars a week on some small human amusement. Does one have to be perfect in virtue to deserve our compassion and help ? That $300 a year isn't half enough to feed a child. Not a third of enough. What is it, about a percent or two of a minimum wage? If someone who's making minumum wage wastes 2% of it, probably they shouldn't. But why are we looking at that and moralizing while ignoring the larger fact fact that someone working 40 hours a week at a minium wage job, which is probably either physically unpleasant or mentally so -- someone willing to work -- can't be sure of feeding themselves ?

We search over and over for the least flaw, the slightest misstep from the poorest among us, and then hold that up as evidence of their unworthiness. But $300 a year isn't a welfare Cadillac.

And if a child has parents even worse than the cable TV buyers, slackers who manage discipline themselves only so far as to apply 90 or 95% of their income towards practical costs vs every penny, are we fine letting the child suffer because of that grievious moral lapse of 5-10% on their parents part?

Y'know, I voted for Ronald Reagan. Twice. I can quote from Atlas Shrugged if I have to. I don't want to feed people too lazy to work out of my pockets. But someone who works 40 hours a week and spends 90% of it on practical things they actually need? These aren't lazy bums. If our society can't help people like that, it's the society that's to blame.
posted by tyllwin at 1:12 PM on November 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


I won't pretend to know the details of Goldman Sachs as a particular case, espirit, but are you actually making the larger argument that an investment firm, in general, cannot extract wealth without producing it, being sarcastic, or defending GS in specific

The first.

Investment banking does not generate wealth. It reallocates wealth.

Sure. But, the judicious allocation of wealth increases the net amount of wealth produced.

Is anyone seriously disputing the value of investment banking?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 1:13 PM on November 18, 2009


Basic cable: 63.1 million
Digital cable: 41.5 million

That's 104.6 million Americans who have cable TV. However, there are 304 million Americans. In other words, 2/3rds of Americans do not have cable TV.


According to the Census, in 2000 there were just over 105,000,000 households in the US. Your data suggests, in fact, that almost every one of those households has a cable connection. (In actuality, my guess is that the connection rate is lower, because many cable connections will be in hotels, businesses, college dorms, etc, not just in households.)
posted by Forktine at 1:20 PM on November 18, 2009


Obesity and hunger are rising in the US at the same time?

Seems only logical that obesity would rise right along with hunger. It is, quite often, cheaper to eat horrid unhealthy food than it is to eat properly. Particularly if you live in an urban area without a real grocery store within walking distance. Inner city markets are horrendously overpriced compared to large suburban grocery stores, and often have a very small selection. I've seen some that will buy offbrand stuff at places like Save-A-Lot and Aldi, and then mark them up to higher than the premium brands at the big grocery chains. We're talking $2.99 for a can of Aldi store-brand corn.

Saying "go to the farmers market!" to someone without a car, someone who might be relying on food stamps to buy those groceries and doesn't have any spare cash, and who might have to drag several children along with them, paying bus fare for everyone, isn't a realistic option.
See here, here, and here to start.

You eat a lot of unhealthy shit, you become obese. You starve a few days a week and your body holds onto those fat cells for dear life. Same reason any dieter needs to maintain a healthy amount of calories if they want to lose weight.

(I answered this seriously in the hope that it wasn't just an offhand hurf durf comment, since this is a very serious issue, and frankly, it's killing people every day. I've known diabetic obese children who literally lived off fast food. Why? because their mom worked there and she could bring stuff home, but couldn't afford groceries. She knew it was bad, but it was that or not feed her kids at all. what can you do then?)
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:33 PM on November 18, 2009


I agree, espirit, that investment banking certainly can judiciously allocate wealth in such a way that new wealth is generated.

Investment banking can also skim the cream off the top, pocketing a lot a money from what are, essentially, suckers at the bottom.

I don't dispute the value of investment banks funding a new business that goes on to generate wealth. People who do it successfully can take a cut and light cigars with $1000 bills, and I'm just fine with it.

But I do dispute that money made off of credit default swaps or securitizing subprime mortgages generates any wealth. It extracts it, but creates nothing, leaving everyone poorer except the investment banker running the shell game.

Even ignoring the notion of gambling big, and privatizing any gains while socializing any losses (you did say, "excepting bailouts," after all -- though that's a huge, and I think, undeserved, exception) Investment bankers in the recent past seem to be doing a lot more of the latter, so do forgive those of us who look with skepticism at these bonuses and wonder how much was generated vs how much was extracted.
posted by tyllwin at 1:35 PM on November 18, 2009


But, the judicious allocation of wealth increases the net amount of wealth produced.

The key word here is "judicious." On Wall Street, at least lately, "judicious" allocation of wealth means making mistakes with other people's money and making them pay you for the privilege.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:39 PM on November 18, 2009


2) You have high expectations of the US. That's good, but really there's lots of poverty everywhere, even in the best countries. It's the ability of the welfare system to transfer wealth around that makes a difference. Goto 1.

That's just not true. There are many countries where there is effectively no real poverty, lots of socialist places in Europe, etc.

Those bonuses are keeping people who would otherwise be gliding down the slopes of Chamonix nailed to their office chairs, generating wealth. Obviously, no one should starve, but this right should be defended by the government, not demanded from an unrelated corporation. It's not as if GS is making money on the backs of starving Americans.

I think you're forgetting something

Plus it's debatable whether GS and other banks actually 'produce' wealth. They're more like parasites. In societies without information technology, a system of bankers to move money from the wealthy to business, as investments would be necessary, but these days a lot of that could be done by computers and ordinary cubicled employees. The complex financial derivative might help banks compete with other banks, but they do nothing for the overall economy. Interestingly Goldman Sachs just Apologized, for what it's not all that clear. I guess being dicks, and said they'll provide 300 million for small business (compared to their 17 billion dollar trading pool)
posted by delmoi at 2:52 PM on November 18, 2009


I think you're forgetting something

I mentioned bailouts in my next comment, but they are a good point, yes.

computers and ordinary cubicled employees

Isn't that what investment banks are?

The complex financial derivative might help banks compete with other banks, but they do nothing for the overall economy.

I don't see how that's possible. Improved competition between investment banks means that they're making better investments or selling cheaper derivatives, which implies maximization of wealth generation.

Derivatives don't just create the money out of thin air. As I understand it, the profit from derivatives is paid for by the seller of the derivative who does this to undertake some other profitable business with reduced risk.

For example, a farmer might pay a fixed price to a bank in return for the bank paying for some of his losses if the weather is not favourable. This is just a weather derivative. Improved competition between banks means that the farmer gets his derivative contract at a lower price.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 3:46 PM on November 18, 2009


As for the scarce food / obesity apparent contradiction, I could cite (not on top of my head) a recent systematic review of international papers and literature on the subject of effects of marketing on childrens choice of food. The review found that marketing _do_ influence children's food choices. Consequently, if we consider the types of food choosen, we may find out that the actual choices end up forming an unhealthy diet, which combined with a more sendentary lifestyle, probably led to the ongoing obesity epidemic. Similar considerations are likely to apply to adults as well.
I couldn't tell from your profile where you are, but I'm going to assume you're from somewhere in Europe. You need to understand a couple of things re: cell phone, cable, car.
I am from Europe and we got basically the very same problems, at least in Italy. Public trasportation system is often unsatisfactory, when available. Unsurprisingly that makes car look like a better alternative, for these who can afford its costs of course, and starts all the stupid witless remarks about public transportation being a smelly place for poor people, which never ceases to amuse spoiled brats (unaware of the difficult choices one has to do) and underdeveloped adults.

Not all commuters(actually, few I believe) choose to live far away from major workcenters (cities, industrial complex), but rather they had to choose between high cost of real estate in big cities and the more accessible costs of housing outside of the cities. That part of cost of living expecially affects young couples, an apartment in a city often being utterly naffordable, considering mortgage conditions and the growing uncertainity of incomes from work (cash flow problems).

Consequently, having a car isn't always a possible choice, as the road infrastructure often isn't really safe for cyclists either, while often one is not allowed to bring a bike on public transportation system or rent/borrow one nearby workplaces.

Cellphones are so widely used basically all the population as at least one, statistically speaking, while it's increasingly becoming less rare to find out that some people gave up traditional land phonelines in favour of cellphones, expecially in these areas in which the DSL service isn't avaiable.

As for cable, it so rare it's not even worth mentioning, all the TV goes on satellite or raditional (now digitalized) UHF and VHF. Obviously, TV it still is the cheapest and most cost effective source of entertainment, and unfortunately of news as well.
But it was still frightening enough that I have never allowed myself to be in a situation like that again, even to the point of overbuying food.
That reminds me of farmer traditions, in which any occasion for celebration involved anquets with unnecessarily large amounts of food being served, or weddings in which
the variety and quantity of food offered was (and probably still is) considered as a proxy of the couple's families stand in society and as sign of appreciation for the guests (and a sort-of compensation for their expensive wedding gifts).

Possibily part of the role played by food in these situation can be explained, for farmers, because of relative scarcity of the past and the difficulties of actually growing food (which made food look more like a symbol of success in life then a mere commodity), whereas having extra food in house maybe reduces anxieties in people who had serious trouble in reguarly obtaining food in their past.
If I got one thing out of all of this, is to not waste food. It seems cliche, but it truly pains me seeing food thrown away or going to waste. And not sharing.
Similar experiences are sometimes reported by people who suffered rationing during wartimes, and I guess also during the Great Depression of the 30s.
Some of these people would absolutely not tolerate the mere idea of leaving something in the plate, and passed down this as either a "sin" or a "dreadful waste" to their childrens, who often really couldn't understand the reason behind all this preoccupation for food waste.
posted by elpapacito at 3:50 PM on November 18, 2009


I wonder how many populations of 300 million are more secure in terms of food than America.
posted by knoyers at 3:55 PM on November 18, 2009


Interestingly Goldman Sachs just Apologized, for what it's not all that clear. I guess being dicks, and said they'll provide 300 million for small business (compared to their 17 billion dollar trading pool)
In 5 years. That's $100M/year. Pocket change.
posted by elpapacito at 4:27 PM on November 18, 2009


Oh, on a side note:
The World Food Summit just finished yesterday in Rome, but only host Berlusconi of all the G8 leaders could be bothered to show up.
Saddening, but we have to commend Mr. B for not attending a court hearing session (of a trial in which he is involved) in order to host a meeting devoid of world leaders.
posted by elpapacito at 5:42 PM on November 18, 2009


Gee, yeah, it's almost as if food insecurity and obesity might be related (and not because fat people are stealing all the food.)
posted by Ouisch at 6:06 PM on November 18, 2009


That's 104.6 million Americans who have cable TV. However, there are 304 million Americans. In other words, 2/3rds of Americans do not have cable TV.

Except that the figures are for Households, not people.

Cable television is virtually universal in the United States. Really, it is. Most of the food insecure people do, in fact, have cable television. I'm not passing judgment or anything, it's just a fact.

Hunger experienced in the first world tends to be that of "food insecurity". That is, people don't always know where their next meal will come from, or miss meals. That doesn't mean that people don't eat, but that they are insecure in their food and will go without. The methodology involves asking people questions like "how often have you gone without meals because you didn't have money/food?"

I'm not an idiot. I really am looking through methodologies. Yes, this figure includes people who don't know where their next meal comes from. But looking at the methodologies it appears to me like it also includes various other people as well.

I don't accept government figures for all sorts of things without a good understanding of how they arrived at the numbers. There's usually an agenda involved. But somehow I'm being a jerk if I try to understand how they're arriving at these particular figures because it has to do with poverty?

Either one wants good, accurate data for everything or one is just another idealogue. You can't just question the figures that disagree with your political leanings and accept the ones that don't.
posted by Justinian at 7:40 PM on November 18, 2009


I work for a nonprofit, providing direct services to low income clients, almost all of whom are food-insecure. Those who mention the Car Tax on the poor are correct in their analysis: cars often eat up to 40% of my clients' take-home pay. Even the best cable package can't accomplish that. And for some context, most of my clients earn under $1000 a month. Unfortunately, as infuriating as the Goldman Sachs stats are, this isn't just a problem you can throw money at to solve.

One of the significant problems is unused funding ALREADY available for nutrition programs. Like the surplus destroyed in The Grapes of Wrath during the Dust Bowl era, countless millions of dollars in food stamp benefits go unclaimed every year. Two years ago, a friend of mine interned for Lone Star Legal Aid and was given the task of assessing the food stamp situation in Galveston County. What she found was terrifying: $40 million dollars of allocated food stamps go unclaimed every year in our county. And it isn't because people have enough to eat.

Fear, shame and lack of education, all bundled within a labyrinthine bureaucracy, conspire to keep people hungry. Have a prior felony? Not only do you probably not qualify for most jobs that pay anything close to a living wage, but you also don't qualify for food stamps. Are you undocumented or is one of your family members? While many children - natural born American citizens - may qualify for food assistance, they likely will never receive it due to their parents' undocumented status. Are you illiterate, literally or functionally? Two 10 page application packets, predominantly available in English await you during the application process. Don't make enough to have a dedicated and accessable phone line? If you are unavailable for a phone interview, you may get sent back to the beginning of the process.

This is the cycle of poverty, friends. Throwing money at it doesn't help unless an effort is made to overcome the myriad obstacles to accessing that help.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:59 AM on November 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Have a prior felony? ... but you also don't qualify for food stamps

Are you fucking kidding me? Have a criminal record, can't get food stamps? Are you serious? That's flabbergasting.

(I mean, lets not even talk about food stamps being a shit idea in the first place)
posted by wilful at 2:52 PM on November 19, 2009


I have been so (by American standards) poor that the only thing I had to eat for a week was rice and BBQ sauce. Fucking disgusting, can I just say. I feel as rich as hell when my refrigerator and cupboards are full. The feeling of being food insecure never goes away, either. At least it hasn't for me and the one trusted friend who was also broke as hell but now isn't and we can talk about it to each other and just remember how shitty it is to be in that position.

Today, when I am able to shop without overly worrying about the cost, the "poor" me is caught up in the fantasy life of buying decent food that isn't mac and cheese and isn't the cheapest crap available.

The "rich" me looks at the insane prices of food now, knowing I can technically afford it, but reeling in shock at what the "poor" me wouldn't be able to afford. Which is to say, the very basics.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 7:20 PM on November 19, 2009


Is anyone seriously disputing the value of investment banking?

What is there to dispute? Investment banking has no socially redeeming value.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:07 PM on November 25, 2009


Is anyone seriously disputing the value of investment banking?

What is there to dispute? Investment banking has no socially redeeming value.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:07 PM on November 25 [+] [!]


There is a huge debate on this from economist and historians and all sorts.

And the answer probably is that investment bankers do have some contribution to the better functioning of the economy (organising capital, making capital and credit available, etc), but that this contribution is MUCH MUCH LESS than their compensation.

Compensation never matches the value of contribution; the capitalist system is just like the feudal system in that power (as acheived through status and wealth) distorts the returns. And capitalist arguments regarding compensation are nearly always tautologist -- eg. "I get paid a lot because I contribute a lot, and you can tell I contribute a lot because I get paid a lot." Banks provide liquidity which is important, but then again, nobles provided security, right? Didn't make their appropriation of the wealth of society any more justified.

But yeah, how much they contribute is a matter of complex modelling of how money moves around the economy. It's enough to know that it's more than nothing, and less than they are compensated for -- but it's never going to change unless we question the very idea whether one can quantify contribution to society.
posted by jb at 1:11 PM on November 26, 2009


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