By Sebastian Stache
In 'the land of the free and the home of the brave,' it is not socially acceptable to have to depend on government help. . .
Translated By Ron Argentati
5 December 2009
Germany - Junge Welt - Original Article (German)
More and More People are Going Hungry in the United States
Thanksgiving was celebrated in America just over a week ago. The origin of this important holiday was a lavish feast the Pilgrim settlers gave for their Native American neighbors, without whose help they would never have survived through the winter. There was plenty for everybody, and no one went away hungry. But today, while some people’s refrigerators are still packed with the leftovers of their opulent holiday banquets, many Americans face malnutrition. The numbers recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are shocking. According to them, 45 million Americans cannot afford to buy sufficient food. That is nearly 15 percent of the national population and 10 million more people than two years before. The situation for children is even more dramatic: one in four must depend on government assistance for nourishment.
It does not help that the agency responsible, the USDA, recently replaced the word “hunger” with the more palatable term, “food insecurity”, in its statistics. This artificial public relations term cannot hide the facts, however. The indications of increasing poverty are all too clear in the richest country on earth. But how could the situation ever develop in which a nation that exports more food than anyone else allows its own citizens to go hungry?
Unemployment is one reason for the increase in the number of people who cannot afford to buy food. Since the start of the economic crisis, a shock that had its epicenter in the U.S., 7.3 million workers have lost their jobs. The jobless rate more than doubled within a year, recently leveling off at around 10 percent. If one considers that many have no social safety net on which they can depend, one begins to realize just how hard their fall can be. The transition from home owner to homeless within months is just as real a scenario in the U.S. as the contrast between the overloaded refrigerator and the poor person going hungry.
Another factor that negatively affects the situation is the deep divide between rich and poor in America. The richest 400 Americans were able to increase their personal wealth by some $700 billion over the last 10 years, while during the same period, the poorest classes saw their personal wealth decline by $1,600 per year. Although the wealthy may feel the negative effects of the financial crisis on their investment portfolios and real estate holdings, they are not forced to live a hand-to-mouth existence.
Making things even more difficult for the hungry is the mixture of pride and national opinion decreeing that everyone is responsible for his or her own fate. In “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” it is not socially acceptable to have to depend on government help, and that explains why many needy people in the U.S. do not even seek assistance: it is a matter of personal embarrassment. In California, only about half the people eligible for food assistance actually take advantage of it.
And because many Americans consider solidarity to be some kind of communist plot, they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to helping others through these needy times. The New York soup kitchens reported donations for their annual Thanksgiving holiday dinner were down some 60 percent this year while the demand rose 40 percent.