One in seven seniors in America -- some 8.3 million people -- faced the threat of hunger in 2010, a 78 percent spike since 2001, according to a study released today by Meals On Wheels, the nonprofit that delivers meals to the homebound.
The “Senior Hunger Report Card” found while the risk of hunger for the U.S. population as a whole has declined since the end of the recession in 2009, it rose for people age 60 and older, mainly among those earning less than $30,000 –- or one to two times the poverty level. (The federal poverty level in 2010, the period studied, was $10,830 for a single person and $14,570 for a couple.) James P. Ziliak of the University of Kentucky and Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois authored the report.
“There is no question that we are failing our seniors, some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens,” said Enid A. Borden, CEO of the Meals On Wheels Research Foundation, in a statement. “The numbers spell out our failure with clarity, and at the same time they call us to action. No one in this, the richest nation on Earth should face the threat of hunger, no one. And seniors, who have little power to change their circumstances, deserve our special attention.” (See Borden’s exclusive Huff/Post50 blog post on the report for more.)
At greatest risk were seniors living in the South and Southwest, minorities, people who were divorced or separated, the disabled, and seniors age 60 to 69 (versus those over age 75). In terms of geography, the threat of hunger for seniors increased in 44 states since 2007, the report found, rising two percentage points in the “Top Ten Hunger States” (see slideshow below). Hunger risk declined or remained the same in just six states: Mississippi, Minnesota, South Carolina, Indiana, Louisiana and Idaho.
Women make up 60 percent of the population facing a hunger risk; African-Americans and Hispanics are nearly twice as likely to confront a hunger threat -– although food insecurity for these groups has declined since 2008.
Hunger translates into economic challenges for the U.S. economy, note Ziliak and Gundersen in the paper: “… food insecurity is associated with a host of poor health outcomes for seniors such as reduced nutrient intakes and limitations in activities of daily living. This implies that the recent increase in senior hunger will likely lead to additional nutritional and health challenges for our nation.”
Hunger risk also affects extended family: : “…the prospects for being under the threat of hunger greatly exceed those households with no grandchild present,” the authors write. Some 31 percent of seniors living with a grandchild were food insecure -- although that’s down from 36 percent in 2009.
The report based its measurement of hunger risk on the Current Population Survey (CPS), which includes a series of up to 18 questions on food security over the previous 30 days and 12 months. This report focused on the one-year period.