Food Hardship data in Oregon

New data show that Oregon’s rate of “food hardship” is one-third lower today than it was at the height of the great recession.

This is fantastic news for tens of thousands of Oregon’s families. Simply put, it means that far fewer families today are struggling to put food on the table than just a few years ago.

At the same time that we celebrate this improvement, we must also redouble our efforts to ensure that every Oregonian has access to nutritious food.

What is Food Hardship?

Every year for the last seven years, Gallup has asked a large number of Americans this question:

Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?

Households answering “yes” to this question are said to experience “food hardship.”

In 2010, 20.3% of Oregonian households answered “yes” to that question. In the first half of 2015, it’s down to 13.7%. That’s a decrease of one-third.

Why is Oregon’s Food Hardship rate going down? What can we do to drive it down further?

To be clear, this improvement is as much of a testament about the severity of the Great Recession as it is a sign of progress. At its height, one in five Oregonian households answered yes to this question. In a nation with as much wealth as ours, that’s absurd.

This means that today, nearly one in seven households in Oregon struggle to put foot food on the table, which is still far too many. Here’s a couple reasons why that number might be coming down, and what we can do to get it even lower...

1) Oregon is getting back to work. As of this writing, Oregon’s unemployment rate is at 5.9%. In 2010, it was above 10%. That’s clearly good news.

The bad news is that many of the jobs being added aren’t family-wage jobs. An analysis using data from 2013 shows that 72,000 Oregonians live in poverty despite having at least one family member working full-time. Let’s just pause and let that sink in for a minute.

As the economy continues to improve, we must pursue policies that support family economic stability for all. Several proposals to boost the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – which effectively helps lift working families out of poverty – died in the state legislature this year. Those proposals should be taken up in earnest in 2016. Oregon should also gradually raise the minimum wage so that more of Oregon’s hardworking families can pay the bills, and more of Oregon’s businesses will have customers with cash in their pockets. We must also defend against attacks on programs that assist seniors and people with disabilities.

2) Nutrition assistance programs are effective. SNAP is the nation’s first defense against hunger. It eliminated starvation and severe malnutrition in America when it became a national program in the 1970’s, and continues to provide a lifeline to families who need an extra boost to put food on the table each month.

Oregon has one of the nation’s highest SNAP utilization rates among people who are eligible. During the recession SNAP was able to quickly assist the growing number of people in financial crisis and our state led the way in using this tool to prevent hunger. As the economy has improved a steady decrease in SNAP enrollment points to more Oregonians attaining food security without SNAP’s assistance.

At the same time, we know that SNAP doesn’t stretch far enough for many families. SNAP benefits often run out two or three weeks into the month, leaving families with impossible choices about which bills to pay or which meals to skip. The SNAP benefit is currently calculated based on antiquated and highly-unrealistic assumptions. For the one in seven households in Oregon who still report that they often don’t have enough money to purchase food, SNAP is long overdue for an upgrade.