According to the USDA, 18.4% of Texas households (or one in five) experience “food insecurity.” An estimated 1.8 million Texas children, or 27.1% (one in four) live in these households. Texas ranks among the top twelve states in terms of its food insecurity rate, and second in terms of the number of food insecure households. (See statistics for your county.)
“Food insecurity” means that consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year. It is the most widely accepted measure of a household’s risk of hunger. In a food insecure household, family members may make difficult decisions between paying for food or other necessities like rent, utilities or medicine. They may engage in coping mechanisms, like skipping meals, eating less than they feel they should, or buying cheaper food that they know is unhealthy in order to avoid outright hunger.
Most food in America is purchased with money. As a result, food insecurity is usually a symptom of economic insecurity. Research has found that the two primary causes of food insecurity are poverty (i.e. not having enough money to meet one’s needs) and unemployment.
Food insecurity is typically episodic, meaning it is a temporary state triggered by changes in a household’s circumstances. The most common triggers are unexpected changes in income or expenses, such as a cut in working hours, or an unplanned medical bill.
Food insecurity is also associated with a lack of assets, or savings. A family with no assets to cushion economic blows is much more vulnerable to food insecurity. When the household budget changes unexpectedly, these families have no choice but to reduce their expenses. Most household expenses besides food are fixed — food is the most flexible part of the family budget, and so often the first to to be cut.
While it may be impossible to completely eliminate unexpected household budget changes in our dynamic economy, food insecurity can be minimized and outright hunger ended through the use of programs and policies designed to address the problem.
Some of the most powerful tools we have to fight hunger are publicly funded programs like SNAP, school meals and summer meals for children. These investments need to be protected and improved. Full public knowledge of and participation in these programs is a key interim step towards universal food security.
Charity is also part of the equation. Charity can go where public programs fall short, addressing the needs of special populations and experimenting with new ways to nourish communities. Charity can also bring awareness, and advocate on behalf of hungry families in ways that public programs cannot.
All anti-hunger strategies should include opportunities for households to build assets. Policies and strategies that increase household assets – such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), or matched savings accounts – offer ways to build household economic stability and self-sufficiency.
Finally, economic development must be inclusive, creating good job opportunities for all income levels and offering sufficient training and education to ensure that these jobs can be filled locally.