The hunger issue

Hunger. What does it mean to be “hungry?” New Mexico’s HSD Secretary Sidonie Squier recently made some comments indicating that hunger is not a serious problem in New Mexico. Not surprisingly, liberal Albuquerque Journal columnist, Leslie Linthicum took Squier to task in this morning’s paper for her comments.

But, before we unpack the issue of “hunger,” it is important to define our terms. I was hungry before lunch today, but that’s clearly not what we are talking about. Linthicum relies on some national interest group measures of “food insecurity” and a group called New Mexico Appleseed that lobbies for increased government spending on anti-hunger programs. Of course, they are going to promote the concept that hunger is indeed a serious problem lest their funding dry up.

But let’s get beyond the fuzzy concept of hunger and look at some hard data:

According to the chart below, only 1.5% of poor families often had inadequate food to eat over the past four months. That’s a far cry from the 20% of New Mexicans deemed “food insecure.”

And, despite attempts to portray a massive gulf between rich and poor, when it comes to actual nutrition, on average the groups are quite comparable:

And, of course, we all know that obesity, not malnutrition, is the main nutrition-related problem among the poor:

Lastly, while hunger is tough to measure and temporary, stunted growth due to malnutrition is easy to measure and exceedingly rare in the US.

So, did Squier step in it? Anytime you make a blanket statement and say that hunger is not a problem in a state of 2 million people, you are bound to open yourself to criticism. But, with large numbers of anti-hunger programs now in place and little evidence of Americans who go without food for a significant amount of time to the point of impacting their long-term health, it would seem that Squier is closer to the truth than her liberal critics would like to believe.

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6 Replies to “The hunger issue”

  1. Paul, I wonder if the low percentage of children who are hungry on a regular basis is due to the fact that NM has programs to feed children who would otherwise go hungry. Could it be, that you are using that low percentage as a reason to cut the very programs that are keeping that number low? Based on my, and my wife’s experience, working in low income schools, in very many cases, the only meals many of those children get in a day, are the breakfast and lunch they get at school for free or at a reduced rate, because of the parents’ income level.

    1. Paul, I noticed that your first graph gives no indication it is showing statistics for New Mexico. Neither do you. Your second graph shows statistics for the United States as a whole. Your third graph compares the United States with the rest of the world. Assuming your first graph actually does show NM statistics, I still fail to see why your second and third graphs have any relation to the reality of poor children in New Mexico.

      1. You are correct. No I don’t have specific data for NM, but when it comes to these data, New Mexico may be somewhat worse than average, but is not incredibly so. The basic idea is to show the paucity of REAL hunger issues in the US as a whole. Even if NM is 50% higher than the nation as a whole, that is a relatively low number compared to what the media and advocates are putting out there.

    2. I’m sure that those government programs have an impact. I’d like to see some analysis of which ones work and whether the recipients would actually go hungry or whether they’d get a job in the absence of those programs. However, given the amazing increase in food stamps (SNAP) in recent years, event the “cuts,” are not really cuts at all.

  2. There was a time years ago when I was divorced and supporting five children on a secretary’s salary. Often the boys would open the refrigerator and wail “There’s nothing to eat in here.” It translated “There’s nothing in here that I feel like eating.”
    Times have changed and the dollar has changed, but with its current buying power and the salary proportionate increase, today I would be considered underprivileged and would qualify for all kinds of benefits.
    What would you say, who would you tell if you lived in one of New Mexico’s poorest counties and knew for a fact that children of two parents earning a combined income of over $60,000/year are getting free meals at school because the parents are poor?!?

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