"Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?"
This was one of the question posed to thousands of households across the country during 2012 as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The answers were compiled as part of the Food Research and Action Center's report "Food Hardship in America," and the findings were as alarming as you might expect for a country still climbing out of the depths of the Great Recession: 18.2 percent of respondents answered "Yes." That's more than one in six Americans.
Here in Washington, the results were slightly better - a rate of 16 percent, two percentage points below the national average, and good for 38th in the country. But according to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), even 16 percent is too high.
According to FRAC, the 18.2 percent national rate in 2012 "was virtually unchanged from the rates in 2009, 2010, and 2011." The agency attributes this sustained rate of food hardship to families continuing to struggle with under- and unemployment, low wages, and inadequate government support - like a lack of funding for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC.
"Looking ahead, there needs to be a point where we say no more cuts," says FRAC spokesperson Jennifer Adach, speaking to Seattle Weekly March 1, on the day sequestration hit.
"The conversation needs to change, she says. "I think it definitely signals that we need start working on ways to get these numbers to move. ... Clearly more action is needed."
In addition to staving off even more cuts to programs for the needy - and specifically re-upping the Farm Bill, which contains essential funding for SNAP and was extended only through September 2013 as part of the so-called fiscal cliff agreement - Adach says Congress needs to respond with "robust initiatives to boost jobs and nutrition programs."
"Last year, Congress proposed billions in cuts to the SNAP. Today, it is poised to further harm low-income programs, including WIC and other nutrition programs, with its failure to resolve self-imposed fiscal crises. And Congress has made no attempt to forestall the scheduled November 2013 cut in SNAP benefits," said FRAC President Jim Weill in a press release dated Feb. 28.
FRAC's "Food Hardship in America" contains data collected throughout 2012 for every state, region, congressional district, and 100 of the country's largest metropolitan areas. While the idea of 16 percent of Washingtonians struggling to feed themselves or their family is troubling, it's far better than, say, Mississippi, the nation's biggest trouble spot - where 24.6 percent of people (or nearly one in four) reported a food hardship in 2012. North Dakota was the least troubled, clocking in with a 10.9 percent rate of reported food hardship.
As far as metropolitan areas go, Spokane was Washington's most troubled, coming in 44th with a rate of 17.5 percent, and the Seattle-Tacoma area came in at 79th, with a rate of 14 percent. Bakersfield, California topped the list with a 26.7 percent food hardship rate.
You can find the full report below: