Enough is Enough: Philadelphia’s Hunger Rate Increases by 22%

In a press release sent out this morning, Hunger Free America and Philabundance announced that the hunger rate in Philadelphia has increased by 22% over the last six years. A new report released by the advocacy organization found that, in the 2015–2017 time period, 302,685 Philadelphia residents live in what the federal government considers “food insecure” homes. This is 18.5% of the total population of Philadelphia, which comes to nearly 1 in 5 people.

To expand on that, in the greater Philadelphia area, which includes Southeastern Pennsylvania and parts of Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware, the amount of people in food insecure homes is 680,550, which has stayed statistically consistent at 11.3% of the population between 2015–2017. Food insecurity has increased 7% statewide in the last six years.

While Philadelphia’s hunger rate has increased, the nation’s hunger rate has decreased, according to federal data compiled and analyzed by Hunger Free America. In a report released by the USDA, 11.8% of the US population lived in a food insecure household, which is a decline from the 14.9% reported in 2011.

This begs the question, then: Why does the hunger rate in Philadelphia and surrounding areas continue to increase while the hunger rate of the United States decreases?

The answer is simple: low wages and lack of social programs.

Hunger Free America determined that it would cost $158 million to feed the hungry in the city of Philadelphia. It would cost $355 million to feed the hungry in the greater Philadelphia area. This cost is far beyond the capabilities of local charities and any hope of the federal government stepping in is almost completely extinguished with the current administration looking to cut funding to SNAP.

The increasing hunger rate in Philadelphia can be directly connected to the current poverty rate. According to the US Census, the US poverty rate dropped from 12.7% to 12.3%, however the poverty rate in Philadelphia remained at 25.7% between 2016–2017. This makes Philadelphia the poorest of the 10 most populated cities in the United States.

While these numbers are depressing, they are, unfortunately, not a surprise in the least. Cost of living in the Philadelphia area has increased due to inflation in the last six years, but wages have actually gone down. According to the US Census Bureau, the median income dropped from $41,449 in 2016 to $39,759 in 2017. Of the 10 most populated cities in the US, Philadelphia is the only city to see the median household income drop in 2017.

Minimum wage in Philadelphia remains at $7.25, which is the federal minimum. This has not increased in nearly a decade, yet property rates and cost of living continue to increase. Someone working full time at $7.25 an hour would make only $15,080 per year before taxes, which is below the federal poverty threshold.

The average cost of renting a studio apartment in Philadelphia is $1,158 per month. They say you’re supposed to only spend one third of your income on rent. This would mean that, in order to live comfortably in a studio apartment in Philadelphia, one would need to be making $41,688 per year after taxes.

No wonder the hunger rate has increased.

Hunger Free America CEO, Joel Berg, said, “Our solutions must go way beyond charity… Elected officials should focus on creating jobs, raising wages, and ensuring an adequate safety net.” He went on to say that the pending Farm Bill should increase funding for SNAP rather than cut it.

In order to decrease the hunger rate in Philadelphia, elected officials need to raise the minimum wage and not only fight for existing safety net programs, but also enhance them. How much starvation is enough to convince you that enough is enough? For me, one starving child is enough to take action.

We need to make food stamps, assistance programs, welfare and health insurance easier to get for those in poverty. We need to raise the minimum wage to keep up with inflation. We need to actually care about our neighbors and help them instead of letting them starve because it’s their problem and not ours.

We need to stop believing the pundits who try to convince us that the people who use these programs are mooching off the government because they’re lazy. We need to end the stigma that people on welfare are low lifes and drug addicts. We need to need to understand that those who need these programs are struggling to get by, to feed their families, to not end up in a cardboard box in an alley somewhere.

Help end the stigma of poverty and stand up to make a difference. Enough is enough.

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