Thursday, May 31, 2007

Goals for reducing food insecurity by 2007

A report released today by USDA's Economic Research Service shows that the United States will fall short of its 2007 goal for reducing food insecurity.

The report, by ERS sociologist Mark Nord, describes the stark contrast between the department's target for reducing household food insecurity and the actual trends in hardship for low-income Americans. In its Strategic Plan for 2002-2007, USDA adopted as a target a reduction in the rate of "very low food security" -- the measurement concept formerly known as "food insecurity with hunger" -- to 7.4% of low-income Americans.

Here below is Figure 1 from the USDA/ERS report. The dashed line shows the hypothetical rate of progress that would have led to success in meeting the target. The blue line shows the actual increase in food insecurity during the period covered by the Strategic Plan.

The target in the Strategic Plan was originally motivated by the Government Performance and Results Act -- known in government only by the acronym GPRA and never by its full name -- as a goal for USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, which oversees the Food Stamp Program and other programs. I have long encouraged USDA to report its progress toward these goals bravely, as this report does, rather than letting the goals slip away into history unmet and yet unnoticed (see link and .pdf link).

Of course, one can't really blame FNS for the failure illustrated in this figure. In the report, Nord gently points out both that the target was ambitious and that food insecurity is related to a whole array of hardships.

These hardships would require a stronger anti-poverty agenda to remedy, and can't be tackled with food assistance alone. The real import of today's report may be to put on the record that by letting that anti-poverty agenda wither away over many years, the U.S. government has essentially made a policy decision to tolerate rising rates of -- and I'll use the no-longer-official word -- hunger.

1 comment:

Walter Jeffries said...

One thing we can do that will help in the long run is to stop all farm subsidies. I mean all subsidies. Farm, oil, auto, housing, trash, etc. This will hurt for a while as the prices and priorities adjust. In the long run it will result in less shipping of food long distances and the growth of local production as the cost of energy intensive transportation comes out in the real price of products - both food and otherwise.

Eliminating the subsidies will mean we eliminate the need for the taxes that support the subsidies. That savings will help in part to make up for the increase in prices.

Conservation will benefit greatly as people will learn to do with less as the prices go up. That is a good long term sustainability move that will help security.

Will it happen? Perhaps if we eliminate all the lobbyists who get all these special breaks and subsidies for their employers.