Overview of Food Insecurity
This letter provides a big view of our role in the community of which you have been an important part. Food Banks such as ours are no longer simply providing emergency food assistance, we are a part of the sustainability model of many hundreds of residents and growing. We have become an integral and necessary part of people’s lives beyond just the elderly, underemployed and underprivileged.
The cost of housing here and everywhere is the US is growing exponentially faster than incomes. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, any individual or family spending over 30% of their income on housing is considered “Cost Burdened”. However, now, millennials on the average are spending well over 45% of their income on housing whereas Generation X spent 41%, Baby Boomers 36% and the Silent Generation; those born between 1925 and 1945 spent less than 30%. The average car payment is the US is $550 for a new vehicle and $393 for a used vehicle. In Walworth County the average property tax rate is 1.88% generating a monthly cost of $391 on a modest $250,000 home if you can find a livable home here for $250,000. Furthermore, the average student loan debt is $28,400 with an average monthly payment of $393. According to an Urban Institute Study 38% of all Americans, 123 million people, have difficulty meeting their most basic daily needs. This condition is no longer limited to the “underprivileged”. For the typical worker, their wages increased 12% from 1978 to 2018 while rents increased 45% and healthcare costs increased well over 100%.
Currently over 3,000 people in Walworth County are uninsured. Fast food prices remain quite flat while fresh meats and produce and other healthy food prices rise at a rampant pace. Expanding organic sections of the grocery store produce department and trendy farm to table offers simply reduce the selection and availability of more affordable produce. These conditions make it difficult for even middle-income households to make ends meet, yet save for a rainy day or, in this case, a Global Pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, most Americans had less than $1,000 in savings.
For the chronically underprivileged, the situation is not a choice but often an incurable condition. Poverty or economic hardship can be like quicksand. For children not receiving a consistent balanced diet, a condition known as FTT often occurs. FTT refers to Failure to Thrive. The body and brain do not develop properly and further conditions such as IDA often occur. IDA refers to Iron Deficiency Anemia. IDA is a lifelong condition wherein brain development is impaired. Furthermore, today we are experiencing an accelerated incidence of early onset diabetes in our county. Food insecurity can also cause obesity. This is caused not only by a high fat diet but the binge eating that occurs when food becomes immediately available. In addition, hunger, and apprehension over when and what might be available as the next meal creates trauma. Repeated traumatic incidents cause impairing long-term or lifelong mental disorders.
A family with children in daycare must provide an adequate supply of costly disposable diapers. Nationally, struggling mothers, on the average, miss four days of work each month due to the lack of diapers. Laundries and childcare facilities no longer allow cloth diapers, so they are generally no longer a viable option to disposables. Shockingly, WIC and SNAP benefits cannot be spent on disposable diapers. Furthermore, otherwise healthy senior citizens experiencing incontinence are often homebound or cannot participate in part time jobs due to the inability to afford ample, expensive adult diapers.
Teenage girls in underprivileged families here often miss an excessive number of school days due to the lack of adequate feminine hygiene products. All of these items carry sales tax in the State of Wisconsin. They are not a luxury, they are a need. Any of these conditions; chronic low incomes, working multiple low wage jobs with challenging hours, caring for parents in ill health, caring for multiple or developmentally challenged children or one’s own health problems or handicaps often make further education or career advancement difficult or impossible.
Earning ability and wages are mostly stagnant while the cost of housing, food, utilities, and other necessities increase at a rapid pace. The quicksand becomes deeper and pulls harder as time goes on. Currently 30% of Walworth County residents are within 200% of the Federal Poverty Level which is an annual income of $52,400 for a family of four. In the years to come, a surprising number of people here will reach the age of 65 with an uncertain future. The State of Wisconsin predicts that the over 65 population of Walworth County will increase 137% between 2010 and 2035.
Today, there are approximately 19,705 persons over 65 living in Walworth County with 25% or 4900 living within 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. By 2030, the senior population will be 28,356. Given current cost of living trends, it is possible that well over 8,000 of these seniors will be in economic hardship. Social Security has lost 34% of its buying power since 2000. Presently in the US, 45% of people reaching the age of 65 have no retirement savings and of the 55% who do, 28% have less than $100,000. In 2020, the average pre-tax Social Security benefit payment was $1,503 per month. There is no quick fix to this problem locally or nationally. As wonderful as our country is and it is the best country in the world, we must accept that we are a nation resigned to overwhelming economic inequality. The immediate solution is to look back to how our grandparents and their friends survived the great depression. Regardless of our religious or political beliefs, we must take it upon ourselves to help our neighbors and commit to the fact that their wellbeing is our charge.
John Hughes (Volunteer)
President of The Board of Directors
Walworth County Food and Diaper Bank, Inc.