New State Health Survey Finds High Food Insecurity During Recession

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New State Health Survey Finds High Food Insecurity During Recession

InsideCapitolDome

New State Health Survey Finds High Food Insecurity During Recession

News Release

During the first year of the economic downturn, at least one in seven Oregon adults lived in households struggling to put food on the table, according to new state health survey data released today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy. The results suggest that the number of Oregon adults who are not always sure where their next meal is coming from increased in 2001. The recession appears to be driving up hunger risks faster than Oregon’s anti-hunger efforts are meeting the need.

“During the first year of the recession, at least 371,000 adults (14.4 percent of all adults) in Oregon lived in households that were ‘food insecure,’ meaning they were not always sure where their next meal would come from,” said Michael Leachman, policy analyst at OCPP. “Some of these adults avoided hunger, typically with help from charities, but more than one-third of them either went hungry themselves at times or lived with others who went hungry.”

While OCPP’s analysis of the state health survey found that in 2001 at least 371,000 adults in Oregon were food insecure, Leachman said that the actual number is even higher, but is not precisely known. The survey undercounts food insecurity because it is conducted by telephone, Leachman said, adding that state health officials agree with this assessment.

“People who are so financially strapped that they are at risk of going hungry are likely to lack a working telephone,” said Leachman. “As a result, many food insecure Oregonians were missed by the survey,” he added. Leachman said his best estimate is that the survey may have undercounted the number of adults living in food insecure homes by as much as one-third.

OCPP’s previous analysis of Census Bureau surveys conducted from 1997-99 found that 260,000 Oregon adults (11.1 percent) lived in food insecure households. While not directly comparable, the new state health survey suggests that the recession has substantially increased the number of Oregonians struggling to avoid hunger.

“Prior to the recession, Census Bureau figures show that Oregon had one of the highest rates of hunger in the nation,” said Leachman. “Then we got hit by the recession harder than nearly every other state, exacerbating the problem.”

Despite the state’s high hunger rate, Leachman noted, the trend in Oregon has been to cut – and to restrain the growth of – government programs that help low-income families. “When so many people are struggling even to eat, it’s time to offer more help, not less,” he said. “The reality is that if Oregon is going to reduce hunger and food insecurity, it will need to increase funding for programs that help families during hard times.”

Leachman noted that reductions in support services for working families and Food Stamp outreach are examples of how Oregon has cut support for low-income families during this recession. In addition, he described how Oregon has restrained the growth of some programs designed to help low-income families. “For example, you have to be much poorer during this recession to get temporary cash assistance than you would have during the last recession, in the early 1990s,” he said.

Leachman pointed out that while the number of Oregonians receiving help from government programs like Food Stamps and the cash assistance program has increased substantially during the recession, the number of adults in food insecure homes still appears to be rising. “The caseloads are up,” said Leachman, “but not enough.”

Leachman also said that the State’s primary aid program for families with children, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, is still very small compared to its size when welfare reform laws passed in the mid-1990s, and the Food Stamp program is responding only slightly better than it did during the recession of the early 1990s. Leachman applauded recent changes in the Food Stamp program that make it easier for families to get help, but added, “Given that Food Stamps are paid for by the federal government, Oregon should be doing even more to help families access the program.”

The new survey analyzed by OCPP was conducted by health officials with the Oregon Department of Human Services in conjunction with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The questions on hunger were paid for by the Interagency Coordinating Council on Hunger, a state policy committee charged with producing recommendations on reducing hunger for the Governor.

OCPP

OCPP

Written by staff at the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

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