The Costs of Hunger

October 06, 2011

The Center for American Progress and Brandeis University just released a report revealing the economic and social costs of hunger in America.The Center for American Progress and Brandeis University just released a report revealing the economic and social costs of hunger in America.

Yesterday, the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University released a groundbreaking report detailing the social and economic costs of hunger in America. The report, Hunger in America, Suffering We All Pay For, found that in addition to federal expenditures to address hunger, the social and economic costs of hunger and food insecurity were a whopping $167.5 billion in 2010; this figure rose $42 billion from 2007. The report refers to this cost as America's hunger bill. Professor Donald Shepard of Brandeis University was the principal author of the report.
How does that cost break down? In 2010 America's hunger bill cost every American $542, highlighting the far-reaching impact of hunger.
The report indicates that the number of food insecure and hungry Americans jumped by 30 percent from 2007, before the onset of the recession, to 2010. In that same period, the cost of hunger, above federal expenditures, rose by more than 33 percent.
The three major costs to society due to increasing rates of hunger and food insecurity?
Illness: hunger makes people ill more often because they do not have proper nutrition to keep the immune system performing at its best. The resulting cost, including demands placed on the health care system, was approximately $130.5 billion in 2010, making poor health the largest factor in America's hunger bill.
Poor educational outcomes: hungry kids are more often depressed, absent from school, repeating grades and therefore have a higher dropout rate – and ultimately a decrease in lifetime earnings. The report found that poor educational outcomes due to hunger cost society $19.2 billion.
Costs of charity: On top of federal funds, $17.8 billion in private donations of food, money, and volunteer time went to meet the emergency food needs of the 48.8 million Americans who confront hunger and food insecurity.
The report also found that $6.4 billion in special education costs could be avoided by making sure no child was hungry or food insecure.
The cost of hunger rose in every state, but 15 states saw their hunger bill rise by nearly 40 percent compared to the national increase of 33 percent from 2007 to 2010. Twelve states were members of the Billion Dollar Club, where the state’s hunger bill increased by more than $1 billion over those three years. 
Donna Cooper, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress noted, "Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, School Breakfast and Lunch, and the Women's Infants and Children Nutrition program cost nearly $95 billion. These programs are essential but still insufficient to meet the need of millions of American to reliably afford to buy food for themselves or their families. Federal efforts to increase wages, employment, and nutritional support to low-wage families are the key components needed to push the hunger bill as close to zero as possible."
For the full report, visit the Center for American Progress.