Southern, Western States Lag In Preventing Hunger
By Clare Nolan, Senior Writer
A report released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture draws a map of a United States rimmed along the south and west by hunger, but increasingly plump and prosperous as you look north and east. As expected of the state that recently captured the unenviable title of the nation's poorest, New Mexico claims the highest rate of hunger. The upper Midwest boasts the most success in feeding the needy.
For the first time, USDA has broken hunger statistics into state-by-state comparisons. The study looks at hunger over three years, 1996 to 1998.
As expected of the state that recently captured the unenviable title of the nation's poorest, New Mexico claims the highest percentage of families who report problems buying food.
About 15 percent of New Mexico adults said there were times when they feared going hungry because they lacked enough money to buy food. Almost five percent of New Mexico's families said someone had actually gone without food at some point.
The poor in Mississippi faired only slightly better. Fourteen percent reported worries about affording food; 4.2 percent reported periods without enough to eat.
Overall, 11 states and the District of Columbia had significantly higher rates of food insecurity than the nation as a whole. About 10 million American families reported problems buying food, or 9.7 percent of the population. That percentage is similar to the hunger rate in 1996, but up from 8.7 percent in 1997.
All of the nation's worst-performing states form a rim along the south and west. 12.9 percent of Texas families are struggling; 12.8 percent in Arizona, 12.8 percent in Louisiana; 12.6 percent in Arkansas; 12.6 percent in Oregon; 11.9 percent in Washington; 11.9 in Oklahoma; 11.5 percent in Florida and 11.4 percent in California.
In contrast to its neighbors, Florida and Mississippi, Alabama's rate of hunger is commensurate with the nation as a whole.
While most of the undernourished states report poverty rates above the national average, there are two exceptions: Oregon and Washington. The report found high rates of food insecurity in these states, but poverty rates more than two points below the national average of 13.6 percent.
In Oregon, researchers found the highest percentage of families who said they had gone hungry, 5.8 percent.
In four states, Arizona, Florida, Washington and Oregon, the percentage of families relying on food stamps was relatively low. Although all four states have significant rates of hunger, for reasons that are unclear they also had low rates of food stamp use.
Researchers found similar results in Nevada, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Kansas and Idaho.
Advocates for the poor are likely to seize on these findings. Since the implementation of new welfare rules, the percentage of Americans relying on food stamps has declined far more quickly than the poverty rate, indicating that many families in need are not getting assistance for which they qualify.
As other surveys have shown, the upper Midwest continues to boast the most success in fighting hunger. North Dakota, with just 4.6 percent of its families reporting food insecurity, ranks best in the nation. South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa all ranked in the top ten.
Other states which count relatively small proportions of the nation's hungry are: Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Hew Hampshire, Nebraska, Alaska, Vermont, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.