What are you having for dinner tonight? It's a question everybody thinks about, but not everyone has an answer to. According to the latest data from Feeding America, 16.1 percent of Chicagoans are food insecure--meaning they don't always have access to enough food to make it through the day.
Even more surprising is that many of these people don't even technically live in poverty. How could a family in Chicago be above the poverty line but still struggling to feed their kids? Read on.
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Feeding America just created an interactive map where you can find out how many people in your county are food insecure. Take a look at the Cook County data:
The federal 2009 poverty line for a family of four is $20,050, so 185 percent of the poverty line for that same family is $40,792. It sounded like a lot when I first calculated it, but then I realized that two parents both working full time at $10 an hour don't even make that much before taxes--$38,400.
My brain immediately jumps ahead to the question: What's going wrong here? If two people working full time above minimum wage are highly likely to be worried about whether they can feed themselves and two children, what's the problem?
Is it that our poverty measure is too low? Many have said that's true, although opponents have said that our standard of "poverty" is what many around the world would consider "rich."
Are wages too low? Studies have suggested that wages for the American worker have stagnated compared to the rise in prices, meaning previous generations could buy more with what they earned than today.
Is food too expensive? With our enormous industrial food system, food is cheaper than ever. However, nutritious food is still much more expensive than factory produced food, which is higher in fat, salt and calories.
Or are there other factors at work here? How do we make sure families in Cook County go to bed on a full stomach, not worrying about if there's enough for breakfast tomorrow morning?
It's a question many of us are hungry to find the answer to.
Photo credit: Curt Fleenor