The metropolitan areas seem robust enough – Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego, and San Jose – with grocery stores aplenty, but hundreds of thousands of people don’t step through those sliding doors because they simply can’t afford to put food on the table.
Nationally, nearly 9 million Americans 50 and older face the risk of hunger, including 8 percent or 1 in every 13 older Californians according to new research commissioned by AARP Foundation. The report, Food Insecurity Among Older Adults, found more than nine percent of older Americans were at risk of hunger in 2009 – a 79 percent increase since 2001.
The research is the first of its kind to examine hunger risk among people age 50 to 59 – the youngest of the Baby Boomers. Because they are typically too young for Social Security and too old to qualify for programs designed for families with children, this age group can be hit particularly hard in bad economic times. In 2009, 4.9 million 50- to 59-year-olds were at risk of hunger, representing a staggering 38 percent increase over 2007. San Bernardino alone has a whopping 14 percent with Los Angeles close on its heels with 10 percent of that population listed as food insecure.
The recession has taken an especially large toll on older people – particularly those in the middle class. Food insecurity was fairly stable from 2001 until 2007 across all age groups when it jumped dramatically as the economy started to wane. Between 2007 and 2009, the most dramatic increase in food insecurity was among those with annual incomes more than twice the poverty line, giving us a better understanding of who is going hungry in America.
The report also examined hunger trends among older African Americans and Hispanics, finding that the risk of hunger remains alarmingly higher among these groups than whites. The risk of hunger for African Americans and Hispanics in their 50s was twice that of whites over the years studied. In addition, those with limited incomes, never-married individuals, renters and those with grandchildren present are all more likely to be food insecure.
AARP and AARP Foundation are working to end hunger among older Americans through Drive to End Hunger. The effort is raising awareness of hunger in America and collecting donations to end the crisis. To date, AARP Foundation has donated more than 3 million meals through local hunger relief organizations, including Feeding America member food banks. AARP Foundation also recently announced a grant making program to fund innovative hunger-fighting efforts across the country.
These high rates continue and may not return to pre-2007 levels any time soon given the continued weakness of the U.S. economy. Food bank coffers are running low with reduced donations and money from government programs is dwindling. It is more important than ever that we work to reduce hunger across America. No one should have the same thing for dinner every night: nothing.