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Hardships are Widespread Among Families in Poverty

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Publication Date: December 2004

Publisher(s): Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (Washington, D.C.)

Author(s): Arloc Sherman

Funder(s): Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (Washington, D.C.)

Funder(s): Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (Washington, D.C.)

Special Collection: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Topic: Social conditions (Poverty and homelessness)

Keywords: Economic projections; Income diversity; Economic inequality; Social inequality

Type: Report


Two recent, little noticed government reports spotlight the strained living conditions of millions of U.S. families. One report shows that the number of Americans threatened by hunger inched upward for four straight years from 1999 to 2003, with one in eight people falling in this category in 2003. The other report examines a long list of hardships that are tied to poverty status. Our own analysis, combining measures used in that report, finds that 8 million poor and near-poor children live in households that have experienced recent hunger, severe crowding, or problems paying bills so serious that phone or utility service was shut off.

The first report, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found that the number of American households ever experiencing hunger during the year rose by nearly one-quarter from 1999 to 2003. Further, the proportion that was either hungry or threatened by hunger — a group the government terms “food insecure” — has edged higher for four straight years. Nearly 13 million households containing 36 million Americans were food insecure in 2003. The second report, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, took an unusual, more comprehensive look at hardships affecting households with children. Besides hunger and food insecurity, HHS examined difficulties paying bills and meeting other basic needs, as well as housing safety problems (such as broken windows and exposed wires) and severe crowding. (See box on page 4.)