Some of the basic things we all count on -- like having enough healthy food to eat, a place to sleep, access to healthcare -- are things that these children don't get. In this country, 1 our of every 6 kids live in "food insecure" families, meaning they go to bed hungry.
Philadelphia has one of the biggest challenges of any large cities in America. In Philadelphia, 37% of children live in poverty, and half of those children are living in extreme poverty. The long-term trend in Philadelphia is also troubling. While the poverty rate in the country has been relatively flat over the past 45 years, Philadelphia's has risen 10.3%.
This is not an impossible task. It requires the will of the people and of the government to make change happen. The United Kingdom cut their child poverty rate in half during the first 10 years of the millennium, while at the same time, the rate went up in the U.S.
The British had to establish a target at the national level and implement a series of policies that included investments and support for children and families, along with ensuring that people had fair pay.
In the U.S. we have seen substantial impact from federal programs in recent years. Each of these programs have been put in place by after significant advocacy work from groups around the country.
However, the work is not yet done. We need a formal national commitment to cut child poverty rate over a period of years, and we must launch a consistent strategy and plan to get us from here to there. At the same time, we must make sure that we don't backtrack on successes to date.
This is where our advocacy comes in. Penn Harvest has mobilized thousands of people to take action through educating our communities about the issues, putting together grassroots efforts to communicate the importance of these issues to our legislators , and raising awareness through social media.
The challenge is big, but we can break it down to smaller parts and take action to address the issue.
Feeding the Hungry in Our Community
Research is showing that kids living in poverty are four times more likely to be in fair or poor health and twice as likely to have academic issues. However, they are nine times more likely to suffer from food insecurity. These kids are going hungry, especially during holidays and vacations when there are no free or subsidized school meals available. The other issue is that these children don't have access to fresh, healthy, nutritious food. They have to eat the cheap fast food and processed food that is available to them.
The Grocery Gap: A Landmark Study
The grocery gap, run by an organization called the Food Trust, was an inquiry that analyzed data from over 132 studies to prove that low-income communities and communities of color across the country are suffering from a lack of fresh, affordable food. The study was also able to show that this lack of food leads to several serious, chronic health issues (such as obesity and heart disease). This study was so impactful because these issues have lasted for decades and just now, they are reaching the stage of national politics. The impoverished have been historically underrepresented and finally, researchers and policymakers are seeing eye-to-eye are seeing the severity of this country-wide problem because of this study. This report contains powerful data and shows that we must answer to the appeals of our local hunger-relief activists to better the lives of those around us.
The entire study boils down to a few main takeaways for policymakers and advocates:
Americans of color, living in rural areas, or living in low-income neighborhoods have difficulty accessing healthy food. Low-income areas have on average 1/2 the supermarkets as wealthy areas. Likewise, there are 418 counties in the US that are USDA certified food deserts (no supermarket within 10 miles), with many of these food deserts being in poorer and rural areas. Low-income areas with supermarkets often do not have the same high quality ingredients available to them as their wealthier counterparts (e.g. in Baltimore, 46% of lower income neighborhoods have limited access to healthy food). Meanwhile, there are on average 1.3 times the number of convenience stores (which sell unhealthy food) in poorer areas, encouraging unhealthy eating habits.
Better access to food = better eating habits. A multi-state study found that for every supermarket added on a census tract, produce intake by residents increased by over 20%. In New Orleans, for every meter of extra shelf stocked with fresh vegetables, residents ate an average of 0.35 servings/day. Meanwhile, in Mississippi "food desert" counties, people were 23% less likely to consume the recommended amount of produce.
Access to healthier food means a lower risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related complications. In Indianapolis, a study found that adding a new grocery store in an impoverished area would decrease the average weight of a resident by 3 pounds. On the flip side, various multi-state studies have found that areas with few grocery stores had the highest rates of obesity and diabetes. In Chicago and Detroit especially, residents who live farther from grocery stores have significantly higher amounts of premature deaths due to diet-related issues.
New healthy grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods help to revitalize the economy. Numerous studies have confirmed that grocery stores help revitalize the economy. Analysis of initiatives to bring grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods in Pennsylvania reveal that the effort has created 4,860 stable jobs in 78 different impoverished communities.
Though The Grocery Gap is a country-wide inquiry, many of the takeaways from the inquiry apply to Philadelphia. For one, some of the more impoverished parts of Philadelphia have been classified as USDA food deserts. Residents in these towns have much difficulty even finding supermarkets, let alone buying from them. Also, there is a clear trend of diabetes and heart disease among the poor of Philadelphia. This is most likely due to the lack of fresh food nearby. Finally, even if there are supermarkets in low-income areas, they close quickly. Why? Fresh food is expensive. Even retailers in wealthier areas only have 1 - 2% profit margins. Programs have been created to incentivize grocery store companies to open in lower-income areas, but more needs to be done.
In the U.S. 17.5% (12.8 million) of children are living in households below the poverty line. Nearly 40% (28.4 million) of children live in low-income households that are perhaps one paycheck away from falling below the poverty line. Of children living in poverty, 6 million are living in extreme poverty, meaning they cannot afford basic necessities for healthy childhood development. Can you imagine what these children are going through?
Lifting Children Out of Poverty