Drop in food insecurity ‘not statistically significant’

Recently published Census data shows a modest dip in the overall household poverty rate in 2016, yet the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) said that progress has been “too little and too slow.”

“While progress is good, it merely underscores that poverty in this country remains too high, particularly harming children,” FRAC President Jim Weill said in a statement.

FRAC, the leading national nonprofit organization on eradicating undernutrition and hunger in the United States, responded to the Census Bureau’s findings on the day of its release, while addressing food insecurity data published by the Department of Agriculture from the previous week.

Weill said the dip in the poverty rate, from 13.5 percent to 12.7 percent over a year, was at the statistical equivalent of the 2007 pre-recession rate, and the 0.5 dip in the household food insecurity rate, from 12.7 percent to 12.3 percent, was “small and not statistically significant.”

Weill also addressed the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which fell from 14.5 percent in 2016 to 13.9 percent in 2016. He stressed the need for federal and state government support of anti-poverty programs, such as SNAP, that reduce poverty, citing the fact that 3.6 million people were “lifted out of poverty” in 2016 because of SNAP, along with the 300,000 who received WIC in that year alone.

While the Census data states that no group experienced a statistically significant increase in poverty rates in 2016, a total of 40.6 million people were in poverty that year, and the percentage of adults aged 65 and older in poverty did increase by 0.4 percent.

Although there were less children under the age of 18 in poverty, the percentage increased by 2.1 percent that year.

Children under 18 represent 23 percent of the total population yet make up 32.6 percent of people in poverty, the Census found.

Also, the poverty rate for children in families with a female householder was unchanged, while the percentage of those in married-couple families declined from 19.2 percent in 2015 to 17.6 percent a year later.

The Census Bureau also found that about half of the children under the age of six who live in families with a female householder are in poverty, which is four times the rate of those living in married couple families.

The report also found that there are more women than men living in poverty regardless of age, with 10.6 percent of women 65 and older in poverty compared to 7.6 percent of men in the same age bracket.

FRAC’s statement on the Census data calls for an increase in efforts to “protect and strengthen” safety-net programs, including the federal nutrition program, while focusing on efforts to increase job opportunities and wages for all.

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.

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