(Originally published in The Chattanooga Times Free Press)
The partial shutdown that President Trump and two branches of government agreed to lift temporarily left thousands of families with no income, with many forced to work without a paycheck, relying on reimbursement in the vague future. Their unemployment and indentured servitude has put a spotlight on their need for the basics of survival. The idea of these families going hungry has affected all of us and the impact is growing. It’s impressive that people are helping them with donations, restaurants are serving free meals, and food pantries are gearing up for waves of new clients. Let’s hope that the generosity and humanity currently on display remains alive and well after the resolution of the shutdown.
Massive hunger didn’t burst on the scene with the shut down. And it’s not, as many people think, only found in third world countries, someplace far away from us. The United Kingdom is the 4th richest nation on the planet and yet, one-third of its children live in poverty. Back in the financial crisis a decade ago, the UK had 29 food banks to help those in need. Today that number is 2,000 and the government is considering creating the post of Hunger Minister.
How does this happen in a relatively affluent country? Good question – one that we can ask our own country. The US is an incredible economic engine. Yet, we’re also a land of brutal economic disparity. Our fortunate CEOs average salaries are in the multi-million dollar range, higher than in most countries. It takes only 1.5 days for the average CEO to out-earn a worker’s yearly salary.
Meanwhile, it’s reported that as many as 15 million U.S. households are suffering from periodic food insecurity. Worse, 40 million Americans continually live with hunger, the same number of people reported to be living in poverty. Many of those who struggle are households with children. About 1 in 5 children go hungry at some point during the year, especially in summer months when families can’t rely on free or reduced school lunch programs. Think of the long-term health problems created when shutdowns cut off these programs.
It’s not just our children at risk. It’s reported that almost 5 million senior citizens go hungry, often having to choose between medicine and food. Their vulnerability will be increasingly visible as their numbers are growing. Tennessee has an estimated 49% growth in the number of our seniors in the next decade. Will we rise to the occasion and make sure that they are fed?
The National Geographic reports that the number of people going hungry increased 57 percent since the late 1990s. In 1980 there were a few hundred emergency food programs across the country and now there are 50,000. Many of the households with children have at least one working parent, often with a full-time job. Poverty and food insecurity have taken on new meanings in what the National Geographic describes as “The New Face of Hunger.”
If there’s a second shutdown, there will be more food insecurity and many more casualties. But we should also understand that the economic inequities of our world are increasing beyond the impact of any shutdown. In 2018, billionaires’ fortune grew by 12% while the poorest 3.8 billion lost 11% of their wealth. Rather than be the example of an unprecedented economic engine, the U.S. may become the poster child for a feudal society where the wealthy live like lords and ladies while the rest of us are at their mercy. Let’s resolve to address the growing economic inequity and become the land of plenty once more.
Deborah Levine is an award-winning, best-selling author of 14 books. As Editor of the American Diversity Report, she received the 2013 Champion of Diversity Award from diversitybusiness.com and the Excellence Award from the Tennessee Economic Council on Women. Her writing about cultural diversity spans decades with articles published in The American Journal of Community Psychology, Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, The Bermudian Magazine, and The Harvard Divinity School Bulletin. She earned a National Press Association Award, was a Blogger with The Huffington Post, and is featured on C-Span/ BookTV.
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