“Food hardship is a serious national problem that requires a serious national response,” says the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Each year FRAC publishes a report on food hardship in America. Food hardship occurs when a household did not have enough money to buy food that they or their family needed over the past 12 months. Though the economy has continued to recover from the Great Recession, many states — including North Carolina – have struggled to create an inclusive economy. The shortage of high quality, high paying jobs, stagnant wages, and disinvestment in public programs that ensure households can access basic needs have contributed to the high food hardship rate in North Carolina.
In 2016-17, North Carolina was ranked 17th out of the 20 states in America with the worst food hardship rate. The combined food hardship rate for families with and without children was 16.4 percent— 1 in 6 households were unable to afford enough food at least one point in time during 2016-2017. Households without children faced a slightly lower food hardship rate of 15.3 percent. Meanwhile, the food hardship rate for households with children was more than 3 percent higher — 18.6 percent — than households without children. Nearly 1 in 5 households with children in North Carolina struggled to afford enough food during 2016-2017, meaning that caretakers may have forgone eating to ensure that their children ate, or that the family lacked food all together.
At the local level, Greensboro-High Point was one of the 20 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) in the state with the highest food hardship rate, at 19.2 percent. Families with children in Winston-Salem had the 7th highest food hardship rate, out of the 20 MSAs with the worst food hardship rates for households with children.
The food hardship rates in North Carolina reflect state policies that fail to ensure all North Carolinians can access basic human needs. “The cost — in terms of damage to health, education, early childhood development, and productivity — is too high.” State leaders must take steps to ensure that all residents don’t have to make the choice between going hungry and paying for other basic needs by passing policies that reduce hunger and poverty:
- Increasing full time employment for well-paying jobs,
- expanding childcare and work supports for working parents,
- increase the minimum wage,
- and strengthen nutrition programs, among other proactive policies to lift struggling households.
Melissa Roark is an MPP Intern with the Budget and Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.