Spending on Food by Tens of Millions of Americans Drops to Unhealthy Level
New FRAC Analysis Finds Hispanics, African Americans Especially Hard Hit
Washington, D.C. - December 8, 2011 - A new analysis of federal data (pdf) by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) finds that more and more Americans have been losing the struggle to afford an adequate and healthy diet. Food spending by the average household fell dramatically over the past decade, with particularly dramatic drops in 2000-2002 and 2006-2010.
FRAC analyzed U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) annual reports that compare the amount of households' median spending on food to the amount of the Thrifty Food Plan - the level the government defines as needed for a bare bones diet on an emergency basis, albeit a level that many experts consider to be inadequate for most families to obtain a healthy diet. The FRAC analysis found that:
• Spending on food by the median household fell from 1.36 times the Thrifty Food Plan level in 2000 to 1.19 times that level in 2010.
• By 2010 median spending on food by Black households and Hispanic households had fallen to the point where it was only a tiny bit above (101 percent for Black households) or was actually below (96 percent for Hispanic households) the bare bones Thrifty level.
• Spending by households with incomes less than 185 percent of the poverty level fell from 106 percent of the thrifty level in 2000 to 95 percent in 2010.
This dramatically reduced spending on food would not be so problematic if households were still spending amounts adequate to obtain a healthy diet. FRAC's analysis shows that they are not: indeed, the median spending of all households has fallen below the amount of the government's Low-Cost Food Plan, which is a much more realistic measure of spending to support health and well-being.
"In short, tens of millions of households are failing to attain an adequate standard for food purchasing," said FRAC President Jim Weill. "When families don't have enough resources to purchase an adequate diet, it leads to increased hunger and damages health, mental health, family cohesion, early child development, learning, and productivity at work. Today's inability to afford enough food will lead to widespread harm to the nation's children and adults, its schools and its workplaces, and its economy unless this trend is reversed."
This squeeze on food spending, especially among lower-income groups, can be largely attributed to a decade of falling incomes and rising housing costs. The only positive note was that Congress in early 2009 enacted a boost in food stamp ("SNAP") payments. FRAC attributes the small improvement in the food spending ratio from 2008 to 2009 to this boost in SNAP benefit levels, as well as a temporary slowdown in food inflation.
"Even a modest improvement in SNAP benefit levels made a difference for struggling households by slightly increasing their purchasing power," said Weill. "Several proposals to cut or limit SNAP have been introduced in Congress, and this analysis underscores just how harmful those cuts would be. It also underscores the need for Congress to act on the President's commitment to forestall an actual cut in benefits scheduled for 2013. As Congress heads into a new legislative session, it must continue to protect and improve the nation's safety net, including SNAP, and focus on measures to rebuild the economy."
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