Sunday, November 29, 2009

Job loss and rise of hunger

Job loss and rise of hunger

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If the test of any society is its ability to care for those most in need, U.S. capitalism is failing dismally. Not only are over 15 million adults suffering from record unemployment, but a Department of Agriculture report released on Nov. 16 found 17 million U.S. children unable to consistently get enough to eat.

A separate study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in November found that about half of the children in the U.S. will be on food stamps at some point during their childhood. The study states, “One in three children and 90 percent of all black children—ages 1 through 20—will use the program.”

In all, the USDA study found 49 million people are hungry and getting hungrier. This is nearly 15 percent of all households, the largest number recorded since the agency began collecting data in 1995. Among these numbers, 12 million adults and 5.2 million children experience severe hunger, going days without eating.

The study found that the number of households in which children face “very low food security”—government-speak for being forced to skip meals by lack of money—is up to 506,000. This is a 56 percent increase over the previous year.

Women are among those hardest hit. The USDA statistics show that households with children headed by single mothers have the highest rate of hunger-related problems.

Drexel University hunger expert Marianna Chilton said: “This is a catastrophe. This is not a blip. This recession will be in the bodies of our children.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 17)

The impact of record unemployment is also being felt in the housing market where one in seven loans is now in foreclosure. This is up from one in 10 at the start of 2009, and the highest on record since 1972 when the Mortgage Bankers Association began keeping track. Rising unemployment, not subprime loans, appears to be driving the increase.

These statistics show the impact of a succession of jobless economic recoveries in 2000, 2002 and under way today. While corporate profits and productivity are at all-time highs, record numbers of U.S. workers and their families are sinking deeper into poverty, primarily due to the lack of jobs at a living wage.

While the crisis of abject hunger is global—a UNICEF convention this week found nearly 200 million children are chronically malnourished—the statistics for the U.S. may be the most astounding simply because of the vast wealth generated here compared to underdeveloped and even some other developed nations.

In many underdeveloped nations, widespread hunger may be attributied to the lack of food resources, but more often it results from World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies that turn food-producing countries into food importers to benefit agribusiness in the U.S. Under globalization, agricultural land has also been diverted for other uses.

In the U.S., however, it appears to be a case of hunger in the midst of plenty. There is no shortage of food on supermarket shelves—only an ever increasing shortage of jobs that would allow workers to afford to buy it.

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