When we or people we care about are injured or ill, we often ask the questions, “will they recover and, if so, when?” Needless to say, the answers – and the outcomes to which they refer – vary widely. Some folks recover rapidly and fully; others do not recover at all.
In the senior hunger world, or at least the one that the researchers report on, “recovery” is generally tied to economic status and condition. In particular, the annual State Of Senior Hunger Reports that we release each year have, since 2009, referred to recovery since the Great Recession. That recession, you will remember, was deemed to have ended in 2009.
The end of the Great Recession, however, was not the proverbial tide that lifted all boats. To the contrary, the data show, the very poor seem not to have benefitted from that tide much if at all. That fact is something that we at NFESH have been focusing on a great deal lately. That fact is something that should create consternation in every compassionate American.
Why are we concentrating our attention on poverty? The answer is simple. The research over time shows that being poor – that is, having an income below 100 percent of the federal poverty line — is a significant risk factor for experiencing food insecurity for individuals who are 60 and older. In fact, it is far and away the most significant risk factor (we’ve come to calling it a predictor) of hunger among seniors. In 2016, more than 31 percent of poor elders suffered from food insecurity. That is, far and away, the largest percentage of all the risk categories. Having a disability is the closest contender at around 24 percent.
Percentages are fine and they help us compare and quantify the extent of risks and condition over time. But in isolation they do not tell the whole story. More important, they don’t translate information to its impact on people, real people that we might or should know. People who live in every community across this great land.
So, we turned to the U.S. Census Bureau and to our calculators to do some digging of our own. This is what we found. In 2009, 9.3 percent of seniors in the United States had incomes at or below 100 percent of poverty. In 2017, years after that recovery, 9.7 percent of seniors were poor. And here is the worse news. The elderly population grew significantly over that period of time. Last year 1,632,899 more older citizens live in poverty in America than did in 2009.
That does not seem like much of a recovery to us. But it does send a clear message. The poor in our nation need our attention. If we sincerely want to reduce senior hunger we need to focus our attention on serving the poor.