A new analysis has found that 54 million people in the United States, including 18 million children, will lack access to sufficient food by the end of the year.
The report from U.S.-based anti-hunger group Feeding America underscores the extent to which chronic food scarcity and malnourishment has surged in poor communities amid a devastating increase of coronavirus infections which federal and state governments have failed to get under control.
The group has distributed 4.2 billion meals across the country between March and October 2020. It is estimated that there has been a 60 percent average increase in food bank users as the pandemic has swept across the country, with roughly four out of 10 users being first-time seekers of food aid.
The analysis comes one month after the U.S. Census Bureau reported that less than half of U.S. households with children feel “very confident” about having sufficient money to afford food through December, with a stunning 5.6 million households struggling to put food on the table during Thanksgiving week, according to a pandemic survey.
The crisis of food insecurity has slammed Black and Latino communities the hardest, as well as poor people living in remote “food deserts” where affordable and healthy food is less accessible. The same individuals who have suffered from the economic impact of the pandemic, including seniors and people with chronic disease, are also at the highest risk of major coronavirus-associated illness.
The report noted that even prior to the pandemic, over 37 million people – including over 11 million children – lived in homes that were food insecure.
While food insecurity had reached its lowest rates since prior to the 2008 Great Recession, the ongoing pandemic is set to reverse any improvements that have occurred in the decade since.
States with the highest projected rates of food insecurity in 2020 are all in the South, and the four states with the most people at risk of hunger are Mississippi at 24.1 percent, Arkansas at 22.5, Alabama with 22.2 and Louisiana at 21.7.
Over one in five residents of those four hard-hit states are expected to be food insecure by year’s end, meaning that they lack the money or resources necessary to place food on their tables, according to the Associated Press.
The rates of those facing hunger could be as high as one in six people, skyrocketing from 35 million in 2019 to over 50 million by the end of this year. The rise also means that one in four children could face hunger.
“There’s a very robust body of evidence that shows that when kids miss meals, it affects their physical health, how they perform in school or don’t perform, their graduation rates, and even their lifetime earnings, so the cost of doing nothing is very high. I worry a lot that we are looking at a lost generation of American kids,” said Lisa Davis, the senior vice president of No Kid Hungry, in an interview with Business Insider.
Low-wage workers who typically earned their paychecks in the service industry have also been the most impacted by the virus. However, those who enjoyed higher wages haven’t been spared by the pandemic and have also faced adversity.
And as states across the country have been forced to adopt new lockdown measures to stem surging infection rates and ease the pressure on strained health care systems, the unprecedented demand for food aid threatens to overwhelm food banks and non-profit organizations providing direct aid to residents.
The report comes as organizations have warned that the start of 2021 could see a historic crisis of evictions and homelessness across the country as a nationwide ban on evictions is set to expire at the end of the year.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an unprecedented order that banned evictions between September 4 and December 31.
The CDC warned that anywhere from 30 to 40 million people could face evictions without the measure, adding that “a wave of evictions on that scale would be unprecedented in modern times” and contribute to the spread of the pandemic due to people moving into closer quarters in shared housing or simply living on the streets.
The coinciding crises of potential mass evictions and widespread hunger across the United States shows the extent to which the pandemic has heightened the vulnerability already faced by huge segments of American society.
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