Whatever differences groups and individuals might have, there is one subject on which they should agree: Children should not go hungry.
But that’s what’s happening in the state and in northeast Indiana, according to a new study by Feeding America. While just more than 16 percent of Hoosiers overall experience food insecurity, 22.7 percent of children are in households “without access, at all times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members,” as food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The numbers mirror figures from an Allen County profile prepared by IPFW’s Community Research Institute showing one out of every five children in 2009 was living in poverty, an increase of almost 13 percent from 2000. Together, those figures suggest that economic hardship has fallen more heavily on children than adults, with troubling implications. If we don’t care for children – ensuring they have enough to eat – the prospects for a strong economy in the years ahead look bleak.
If the plight of hungry children alone isn’t enough to prompt action, the economic effects should be. A 2009 study of child hunger’s economic effects on the U.S. noted:
Child hunger is an educational problem: Hunger in children from birth to age 3 harms cognitive development during a period of rapid brain growth. The fundamental neurological structure of the brain and central nervous system can be damaged.
Child hunger is a health problem: Hungry children are sick more often and more likely to be hospitalized, an expense often passed on to business as taxes and insurance costs. Chronic malnutrition contributes to higher health care costs throughout life.
Child hunger is a workforce and job readiness problem: Employees who experienced hunger as children can be unprepared physically, mentally, emotionally or socially to perform effectively at their jobs.
The short-term response should be clear: Support agencies such as the Community Harvest Food Bank to help feed struggling families. The food bank, which serves nine northeast Indiana counties, is the largest hunger-relief agency in the region. Its capacity to help rests with some federal food programs and the generosity of donors.
Long term, policymakers must determine why poverty is affecting young people at a higher rate and look for solutions to improving the disturbing numbers. As long as even one child is hungry, economic recovery hasn’t happened.