Many more Oregonians are going hungry this Thanksgiving than at any time in recent memory, new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show, underscoring the continued economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a recent Census survey, half of Oregon households with children worried that they would be unable to pay for food in the next four weeks. And about one in 11 Oregonians surveyed said their household wasn’t getting enough to eat.
“Food is one of the first things people cut back on when money runs short,” said Janet Bauer, a policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy, who examined the Census numbers. “These unprecedented levels of hunger mean Congress must act immediately to pass long-delayed, additional economic relief.”
Research shows that food insecurity and hunger are particularly harmful for children. For them, food insecurity and hunger increase the risk of acute and chronic physical health conditions, undermine mental health, harm brain development, and hamper school performance.
As with other impacts of the pandemic, hunger is taking a heavier toll among Black and Latino Oregonians. Bauer said that 32 percent of Black adults and 15 percent of Latino adults in Oregon reported this fall that their household sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the past week. This compared with 7 percent of white adults.
“These figures are a harsh reminder of how our public policies, past and present, have held back Black and Latino Oregonians economically, leaving them more exposed to damage from the pandemic,” said Bauer.
The current levels of hunger stand well above those seen during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. At no time during the Great Recession or its aftermath did the share of Oregonians reporting not having enough food to eat exceed 7 percent. But the figure climbed to 9 percent in the most recent Household Pulse Survey, established by the Census Bureau to provide real-time data on the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
“It’s imperative that Congress respond to the untenable situation so many now face,” Bauer said. She urged Oregon’s congressional delegation to push for a relief packing that includes an increase in food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), boost emergency rental assistance, renew enhanced unemployment insurance benefits, and provide emergency grants for low-wage households excluded from previous federal aid.
Bauer also called on Oregon lawmakers to further supplement SNAP benefits, extend the eviction moratorium, and provide additional rent and utility assistance.
“We know what policies can prevent hunger, and we have the resources to do it,” said Bauer. “What is urgently needed is for elected leaders to act for the sake of our children and communities.”
The Oregon Center for Public Policy (www.www.ocpp.org) is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.