A report released today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy provides the first look behind Oregon’s high hunger and food insecurity rates, revealing who in Oregon faces the greatest likelihood of being food insecure or hungry. The report, Hunger in Oregon, provides the first profile of Oregon’s food insecure and hungry households, by family composition, education, race, age, income and geography.
In late 1999, based on data through only 1998, the USDA issued a report that ranked Oregon as perhaps the hungriest state in the nation. The report released today is based on more recent hunger and food security data and provides additional economic and demographic data showing the possible reasons for Oregon’s high hunger rate.
The report finds that nearly one in four children in Oregon live in homes where parents are so cash-strapped that they struggle to put food on the table. The report notes that in nearly half of all food insecure homes, at least one person – usually an adult – sometimes goes hungry.
“Too many Oregon children live in homes where hunger is a real fear, and in some cases a reality,” said Leachman. “While the children themselves may not be the ones going without food, they are learning about hunger and food insecurity the hard way, by living with it.”
The report revealed that Oregon’s hunger rate is nearly double the average rate in the other 49 states. About 5.9 percent of Oregon households contain members who go hungry at times. The average in the other 49 states is 3.3 percent.
“Hunger is different here than in developing countries. While Oregonians are not starving to death, our problem is still serious,” said Leachman. “People who are under-nourished perform poorly as workers, parents, students, and citizens, and they are more likely to get sick.”
The OCPP analysis shows that households in rural Oregon were more likely to struggle to put food on the table than urban households. “Oregonians in rural counties have a tougher time finding work than people in rural counties nationally, and the jobs in rural Oregon are more likely to disappear in the winter,” said Leachman. “This helps explain why the food insecurity rate is higher in rural Oregon.”
According to the report, food insecurity is a statewide problem. About one-third of Oregon’s struggling households live in the tri-county Portland area, and another third live in Oregon’s six other urban counties.
The OCPP report points to Oregon’s income inequality and high housing costs as possible explanations for Oregon’s high hunger rate compared to other states. The report notes that the gap between the rich and poor grew four times faster in Oregon than nationally from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. “Oregon stands out as a state where the 1990s economic boom primarily benefited more affluent families,” said Leachman.
The report shows that the disparate economic growth was coupled with a doubling in housing prices over the last decade. “The big increase in housing costs squeezes lower income families, whose incomes did not benefit from the economic boom,” said Leachman.
“We’ve documented that over the last decade low pay jobs in service and retail grew as a percentage of all jobs, while higher paying jobs in manufacturing shrank,” said Leachman. “This helps explain why Oregon experienced an increase in the percentage of families with children who lived in poverty, even though they worked.”
“Work does not guarantee protection from hunger and food insecurity,” said Leachman. “Twelve percent of all working households in Oregon work but still struggle to put food on the table.”
The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a Silverton-based public policy research institute that addresses tax, budget, economic, and policy policies important to low and moderate income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians. The report, Hunger in Oregon, is available for $2 from the Oregon Center for Public Policy, P.O. Box 7, Silverton, OR 97381.