Food insecurity is a problem that has been plaguing Texans for years, and it’s a topic we have covered extensively at BOR. Whether it’s the millions of Texans choosing between buying food and other necessities like clothing and transportation, or the news that came out just last week that 1 in 5 Texans have been unable to afford food in the past year, food insecurity is shamefully high here in Texas.
Now, a new study from Feeding America has painted better picture of hunger in Texas, literally. The “Map the Meal Gap” study examined statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Census Bureau, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and used them to create an interactive map of hunger in the United States by both county and congressional district. The study also included new numbers for the overall rates of food insecurity in Texas–17.6% percent of the overall state population – including nearly two million children – struggled to avoid hunger in 2013.
You can view the interactive map of food insecurity in Texas by county here.
Celia Cole, CEO of Feeding Texas, highlighted what the study means for Texas:
“This study demonstrates that low-income Texans are still fighting to benefit from our economic miracle. …Hunger continues to strike hard-working families in every county in Texas. We are all affected, and therefore we all bear the responsibility to solve this problem.”
In total, 4.6 million Texans were found to be affected by food insecurity. Only California had a higher number of food insecure indviduals. Texas was also found to rank 7th in the nation in child food insecurity rates, and 3 Texas counties rank among the top ten most food insecure in the nation: Harris, Dallas, and Tarrant counties.
Interestingly, the study found that food costs were not the only reason why Texans were facing food insecurity. The average cost of a meal is slightly cheaper in Texas ($2.45) than nationally ($2.79). Many Texans who were food insecure actually had incomes above the threshold to qualify for government assistance, including crucial programs like SNAP, WIC and school meals.
Food insecurity doesn’t just hurt those families who are facing hunger themselves, but the entire state. Hunger increases healthcare and education costs, and decreases economic productivity, as this report from The Perryman Group explained:
- Health care needs of people who are food insecure are higher due to increased incidence and severity of disease. Health outcomes are also worse, reducing productivity and lifetime earnings. In addition, education expenses are higher. Food insecurity is associated with a greater need for intervention such as special education, and education and achievement levels (and, hence, lifetime earnings) are negatively affected.
In addition, the study found that for every dollar invested in food banks,the state receives three dollars in overall benefits.
Feeding Texas, which is the network of Texas food banks, is asking the legislature for $18 million this session to fund a new initiative called Feeding with Impact, which they described in a statement as “a statewide initiative of its twenty-one member food banks that combines fresh produce with nutrition education to improve dietary health.”
We can only hope that the Lege is paying attention to the state’s rampant hunger problem, and follows the experts’ recommendations to do something about it.