Poverty and its byproduct, food insecurity, are getting worse in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, according to federal and state data. The region’s children are heavily affected.
Of the state’s 1.8 million recipients of food stamps, also known as SNAP, more than a quarter live in Philadelphia. They represent one-third of the city’s population. Of those on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), 40 percent are under 18.
“The situation here is pretty dire,” said Kathy Fisher of the Coalition Against Hunger, an advocacy group. “Hunger and poverty go hand in hand. The fact is that we are the poorest big city in the nation.”
More than one in 10 city residents live in so-called “deep poverty,” or with incomes below half the federal poverty rate, which is now defined as just over $24,000 in annual income for a family of four.
As a result, food insecurity is also a big problem in Philadelphia.
To determine U.S. residents’ food insecurity levels, the U.S. Department of Agriculture largely uses household surveys. The agency asks respondents to put themselves in one of four categories.
People with “high food security” report no food access problems or limitations. Those with “marginal food security” may report anxiety over having enough food to last the month, but no change in diet or food intake.
Food insecurity is divided into two categories: “Low food security” means reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet, but no report of reduced food intake. “Very low food security” means those who report “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.” In other words, people go hungry.
In Pennsylvania, the number of people confronting “very low food security” increased by nearly 60 percent between 2004 and 2014 – from 2.9 percent of the population to 4.6 percent.
To help address this, Fisher said, the federal school lunch and breakfast programs are critical.