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Hunger and Poverty in the Native American Community

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines “food insecurity” to include resource constraints leading to such serious problems as the family suffering hunger, or being unable to purchase a balanced diet or enough food for their children, or the parents skipping meals so the child can eat. The Native American community suffers from a much higher rate of food insecurity and hunger than the general population. The rates of food insecurity and hunger among Native Americans are twice the already too high rates for the general U.S. population, and three times higher than the rates for White Americans. Food insecurity and hunger take a serious toll on the health and well-being of the Native American community.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 22.2 percent of Native American households were food insecure over the 1995 to 1997 period, meaning that they did not have access to enough food to meet their basic needs. Many of these households reached the level of food insecurity that was great enough to cause the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine that one or more members of their household suffered from moderate or severe hunger during that period: 8.6 percent of the Native American households — one out of twelve — experienced food insecurity with hunger.

Poverty is, of course, the principal factor in causing food insecurity, hunger, malnutrition and undernutrition among Native Americans. The association between poverty, hunger and food insecurity has been well documented. A number of studies, including FRAC’s Community Childhood Hunger Identification Project and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s studies of Household Food Security, provide evidence that poverty and food insecurity are inextricably linked. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found that “food insecurity prevalence rates, at all levels of severity, decline consistently as household income levels increase.”

According to 1990 Census data, 31.6 percent of Native Americans lived below the poverty level, compared to 13.3 percent of the total United States population. Native Americans had the highest level of unemployment of any racial or ethnic group surveyed by the 1990 Census; 16.2 percent of men and 13.4 percent of women were unemployed. This was over twice the national unemployment rate for all races: 6.4 percent for men, and 6.2 percent for women. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs most recent report, half the Native American workforce in Indian Country (on-or-near the reservations) remained unemployed — 50 percent in 1997. The Bureau of Indian Affairs also reported that 30 percent of the employed Native Americans in Indian Country still live below the poverty line. The consequence of such poor economic circumstances is that 43 percent of Native American children under the age of 5 are living in poverty.

Quoted from the Food Research and Action Center website.


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