Minnesota food insecurity still at all-time highThe number of Minnesotans who struggle to put enough food on the table remains at its highest level since the government started counting two decades ago. A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says about one in 10 Minnesota households doesn't have access to enough food for healthy living.
By: Julie Siple, Minnesota Public Radio News
ST. PAUL, Minn. — The number of Minnesotans who struggle to put enough food on the table remains at its highest level since the government started counting two decades ago. A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says about one in 10 Minnesota households doesn't have access to enough food for healthy living.
The report is the closest thing the government has to an official hunger count. Once a year, census workers ask people all over the country a series of questions about food. Questions like: "In the last 12 months, were you ever hungry, but didn't eat because there wasn't enough money for food?" The government then calculates how many people are "food insecure," a wonky way of saying they lack consistent access to enough food.
This latest report shows 10.6 percent of Minnesota households are food insecure. It also shows that 4.8 percent fall in more severe category called "very low food security," which means they sometimes ate less than they should have or skipped meals due to insufficient funds.
Minnesota is doing better than the national average of 14.5 percent, but the state's numbers seem stuck at an all-time high, and they've been there for several years. Colleen Moriarty, who directs Hunger Solutions Minnesota, says we shouldn't expect the problem to go away anytime soon because people hit by the recession are still trying to recover.
"We know that it takes at least 18-24 months for someone to really get totally back on their feet," Moriarty said. "You can imagine if you haven't had money to pay the bills, and you've been out of work for a long time, there are consequences to that."
But Moriarty points to a sign that things are improving: Food shelves, which saw double-digit increases in visits during the recession, have watched those numbers start to level off. Now, only food shelves in certain pockets of the state are seeing big jumps in need.
That's little comfort to Kathy Wills, director of Family Pathways, which runs 10 food shelves just north of the Twin Cities, serving counties including Pine and Kanabec. She's heard all sorts of media reports about the improving economy, but says the reality on the ground for people in her region is a different matter.
"They're not getting jobs. If they are taking a job, they're picking up anything. So maybe they were being paid $20-$30 an hour, and now they're down to $10 an hour just to get a job," she said.
Visits jumped about 12 percent at her food shelves this year, she said. That's not as dramatic as a couple of years ago, but Wills still sees new people who have never set foot in a food shelf before. She thinks they've been struggling for a couple of years.
"I truly believe they just were too proud to come. And they've used all their savings, they have used every ounce of money, their 401Ks, and they now just can't do it any longer," she said.
Lisa Horn, executive director of the Eagan and Lakeville Resource Centers in the southeast suburbs, echoed Wills' sense that the situation is even worse than the hard numbers indicate. She, too, sees people settling for jobs at reduced pay, and new people coming for the first time after waiting as long as possible. This year, she counted a 26 percent increase in clients served over last year. She's not optimistic about what's to come.
"I will plan for a 26 percent to 50 percent increase in 2014. I think I would be shortsighted if I didn't. I don't have any confidence that that need is going to go away or decrease significantly in the near future," she said.