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Source: Pew Research Center

Category: Wages & Income

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

96 Responses to “Discuss: Why is the USA: the only rich country with growing population % who can’t afford food”

  1. Old Rob says:

    It depends on what we define as food. If all the items that we in the US were the same and available in other countries, the affordability factor would be quite different. Not to minimize the situation where there is a lack of jobs for people, but there is a huge number of people buying (and competing with other shoppers) food with money they did not earn.

    It may be necessary short term, but I think the demand for food with unearned dollars is innately inflationary (in the food markets) and we see the result when we or our spouses go shopping and constantly complain about the prices.

    I am aware that commodities contribute to the cost of foods, but there may be a disconnect in cost from pricing. Just a thought.

    • Incoherent gibberish: I haven’t the slightest idea what the fuck you are babbling about.

      • Topsailsman says:

        I believe that Old Rob is saying that if more people would starve to death, food prices would go down. You know, that old “law of supply and demand”. Also, Old Rob is saying that if everyone paid cash instead of SNAP cards for food, prices would also go down even though demand would be the same. You know, that old “not law of supply and demand”. Something about too many SNAP cards chasing too few frozen burritos, I guess.

      • parisblues says:

        Give ‘em hell, BR!

  2. RW says:

    The reports keep coming in — e.g., Food Hardship in America 2012: Data for the Nation, States, 100 MSAs, and Every Congressional District — and there are clearly complexities to the grim picture but boiled down to it’s essence there is plenty of food but also plenty of citizens who appear to believe that the inability to afford that food constitutes prima facie evidence of unworthiness to receive it (and elect representatives of similar mind).

  3. Tamarisk says:

    I live in a rural Texas community where 51% of the students receive free or reduced lunches at school. Additionally, the community churches provide backpacks filled with non perishable food for those students to take home on the weekends to ensure that they do not miss meals. We also have a community food bank.
    The irony and the problem with this form of welfare is that the majority of the recipient’s parents and most of the students posses the latest smart phones, flat screen televisions, and late model cars. Taxpayers and donors are subsidizing their food which frees their cash for non essential items. Its modern day bread and circuses.

    • cjb says:

      Tamarisk – though I hate to point it out, because I know there are many who cannot truly afford food, here in Lake County Illinois, it’s much the same as you say. Stand in a grocery line and those with Illinois food cards are talking on IPhones and Androids. The friends and clients I have who work in the medical community always complain about the medicaid patients who show no employer, yet have smart phones, spending there time in the waiting room texting or surfing. Now I do think a lot of them also stiff the wireless providers by changing names and addresses constantly and ducking the bills, but it is frustrating to see. In many cases, in my area, I think the inability to pay for food is a case of mis-placed priorities.

  4. key-bit says:

    The easy answer is the minimum wage has not kept pace with inflation and should be over $20 today. This is a product of Corporate America stripping workers rights away over the last 50 years and percentage of Americans who belong to organized labor. If you are a low skill worker (high school), why not get government assistance instead of working 40 hours at $7.25 an hour?
    I don’t agree with the argument food here is expensive. With sequester, I have cut back and bought healthy foods like bananas, veggies, chicken, ect that are much less expensive than prepared foods.

  5. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Please forgive my typical lack of tact, formality, or couth, but it’s probably because we’re totally and irredeemably fucked up and over as a culture.

  6. MidlifeNocrisis says:

    I retired in 2011 but I sometimes look through the local help-wanted ads and local job service, just to see if there is anything I might want to do on a part-time basis. This is Iowa and not near a large city, but I can tell you that the number of advertised job openings that pay over $8.00 per hour are few and far between.

    For some people the USA is a “rich” country. For many, it is not.

  7. 873450 says:

    Why is the USA the only rich country with growing population % who can’t afford food?

    Because we cherish freedom and choose to be richest country in history on earth with a growing poor population. We have elected government and all we have to do is vote to change it when we want to change direction. Too many people forget they are free, but there’s no free lunch in the USA. Government capture didn’t come cheap and free people have to vote to take it back.

    Besides, hunger builds incentive to work for less pay. It is not until lazy people are free to go hungry (and homeless and cold) that they can truly appreciate there is dignity in work, even when they still can’t afford to feed their children.

    “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,
    And nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free,”
    — Kris Kristofferson

    • end game says:

      We can always vote to change… except when the politicians of the upper class gain power by promising to help the middle class and then work relentlessly to redraw districts to ensure future majorities to cut education to help ensure a gullible electorate fed nonstop political ads to keep them in power funded by corporations with unlimited funding made legal by stacking the highest court in the land, all to lock in their privileges…. La Serrata.

      I find your flag-waving naïveté to be sweet.

  8. farmera1 says:

    My top ten reasons the powerful take all of the fat of the land leaving the scraps for the masses (often thought of as the unwashed masses).
    1. Rigged taxes that favors the wealthy (low capital gains, tax cuts for the rich)

    2. Get yours while you can is considered a noble goal

    3. 400 people control more assets than the bottom 60% of the people

    4. Rigged system that gives all of the increasing productivity gains to the upper 1%

    5. A Supreme Court that has rigged the system for “business” and the wealthy

    6. Managerial capitalism where companies are managed to maximize the wealth of the in crowd.

    7. Tax systems that allows the wealthy to hide money overseas and feel no shame.

    8. Corporations are people and have all the rights presented in the Bill of Rights (but none of the responsibilities and risks) thanks to the Supremes.

    9. Thanks to the Supremes and the appointment of Bush with 500,000 fewer votes

    10. Thanks to the greed is good motto, taking everything you can get (out sourcing jobs, not paying taxes, passing on you billions to your undeserving future generations) are a noble goals.

  9. BennyProfane says:

    I need some explaining here. We’re worse off than China? The same as Greece? Really? I find this very hard to, ahem, swallow. There is so much cheap food in this country that many serious people have been trying to figure out how to make Americans stop eating so much for some time now. Look around you. There’s cheap meals on almost every commercial corner in America, many a time more than one choice on that corner. For five bucks, and not even leaving your car, one can have a meal that has more calories than I’ll bet half the population of China consumes in a few days. I know it’s junk and not very good for you, but, still, it’s food, and will keep you going for a few days. Compare that to the meager rice bowls a dirt farmer eats as his only meal all over East asia. Industrialized food has eradicated hunger for billions. We plow under and destroy more crops that third world counties can grow in year. We also throw away almost as much food after it’s been prepared.
    I’m sorry, I just don’t see a lot of hungry, skinny people walking around. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite.

    • Skinny and malnourished are two different things

      • mathdock says:

        BR, You asked “why ….. “etc. It’s a bogus question because you assume the chart is meaningful. The words “can’t afford” implies a lack of choice. Food abounds thanks to the charity of many MILLIONS of people and so free food can be a choice. Some people choose poorly. Even the rich: Chris Christy, the Weinsteins and I make great examples. And you’re talking about free-range chicken. What a dummy.

        BOTTOM LINE: Gotta sleep somewhere, gotta wear clothes, gotta eat decent food, and gotta have clean water. Gotta have work, too, though Uncle Sugar don’t gotta know, and gotta have a ride. Some say you gotta have faith, and you gotta have friends. Don’t need no smokes, don’t need no beer, don’t need no donuts, don’t need no TV, don’t need no web. Libraries are free. Don’t need no smartphone, an ObamaPhone is plenty. In America, EVERYONE can get a bag o’ pinto beans and a bag o’ brown rice, even if it’s with an ObamaSnapCard. No heat? Buy cans of food instead. As a treat, buy some meat, buy some fruit. BTW, that’s about how we grew up. Two parents in nursing school, interns at Manhattan General, us living in a Bronx apartment, mom droppin’ another sibling in the even years, miscarryin’ in the odd. Good Catholic, you see, but I’m glad I had them around. Special treat? Ha! Powder milk mixed with nonfat! Bread pudding? No problem. Used some of that milk!

        24% of 300 million? 72 million can’t “afford” food? BEEEEEEEEE ESSSSSSSSS! Perhaps 15 million? Sure. That’s 5 PERCENT of the US. Who? Some out in the boonies, some deep in the cities; some in crisis, some in shock, some bein’ abused, nowhere to turn; some are rebellin’, figurin’ out life. Some are the U-6 folks bein’ left behind. Some too sick, some lame. Some need teachin’ somethin’ awful. Some too stubborn to get back to the bottom line. But not 72 million!
        Anyway, have a great shabbat.

      • If we only were looking at the US, I could give more weight to the methodological criticism you are making.

        But its the same methodology applied to all of these countries — why does the US do so poorly when compared to other nations?

      • Bridget says:

        One of my favorite things to do when traveling (and I’ve been many places in the US and abroad) is to go to grocery stores.

        The aisles of the typical American grocery store are appalling. Entire aisles of candy, soda, and snacks, but devoid of anything of nutritional value. People apparently actually pay big bucks for bottled iced tea. It costs a few cents and takes about a minute to make iced tea from a tea bag, but they pay dollars for a quart of ready made. How stupid is that?

        And, since Americans apparently are no longer able to cook, but must instead have everything microwave ready, are aisles of expensive, lousy tasting, sugared, salted, and fat filled “meals”.

        That the Pew study relies on self reported feelings of being unable to afford food indicates to me that a comparison of the affordability of basic staples to family income would have yielded a result less favorable to the agenda.

  10. woolybear1 says:

    I too am out here in the boonies of rural Iowa, town of less than 5000. I see many poverty stricken people every time I go to the grocery store. Everything is expensive if you are making minimum wage. Our schools are deteriorating, way too much emphasis on sports, teachers basically are not allowed to fail anyone.

  11. beaufou says:

    Is that a rhetorical question?

  12. constantnormal says:

    Bananamerica … the largest banana republic on the planet … where the streets are paved with gold and lined with beggars …

    Too cynical, or right on the money?

  13. whskyjack says:

    It is a perception survey, it doesn’t reflect reality.
    The reality is that poor people in America are fat. Most of their insecurity come from bad choices. It is the problem with modern America we have too many choices and we don’t choose wisely. So which do you chose the oat meal or the Cap’n Krunch. With oat meal you get 23 servings for about $2, With Cap’n Krunch you get 9 for about $4. But you say “My kids don’t like oatmeal” Guess what, that is a luxury that 75% of the world can’t afford. Beans and rice are cheap, then build around them with cheap veggies, carrots, cabbage.

    It is all the other stuff out there that is expensive, the doctor the dentist , transportation to work and on and on.


    • They must be fat because they eat so many organic fresh vegetables, free range chicken and wild fresh fish. It has nothing to do with a cheap diet that’s mostly diet of high carb/corn syrup/salt/fat, most often from fast food.

      Bad choices are often a function of economic options. Astonishing someone calling themselves Whiskey Jack hasn’t figured that out . . .

      • whskyjack says:

        Hah, one thing is obvious, a man with a handle like whskyjack knows all about bad choices
        Bad choices are bad choices and have nothing to do with economic options. Buying a fat and salt laden frozen pizza instead of a head of cabbage or a bag of carrots is a choice and not an economic one either because they all cost the same dollar.

        From your comment I doubt that you have ever had a close encounter with poverty, where as for me much of my first 30 years extreme poverty was an intimate companion. So I am well acquainted with limits that poverty can have on your options but it never forced bad decisions just my own stupidity did that.
        You don’t need organic foods to eat healthy, there are plenty of low cost healthy foods. I buy them everyday. It’s one of those habits you develop when you are raised poor The main problem with most of them is that you have to cook them, they don’t come heat and eat.


      • LOL fair comment!

        I have 1st hand familiarity with being poor, grew up in the 1970s when things were tough all over, dad worked for a business that went under when the boss died and the family got involved, and he had to scramble. Mom became a real estate agent and dad opened up a retail store (when he was prior an engineering employment recruiter).

        I put myself thru college and grad school and was poor (or lower middle class anyway) til I was 40. I can tell you 1st hand its much easier to be healthy when money is no longer a concern . . .

      • BennyProfane says:

        “I can tell you 1st hand its much easier to be healthy when money is no longer a concern . . .”

        Maybe not. I have read many a study that told me that new found riches actually are bad for one’s health, because suddenly more expensive fat laden meats and dairy products are consumed. The Japanese hardly had any kid of heart disease in their society until beef was introduced into their diet in the early 20th century, and that problem rose steadily over the next 100 years. More than once I have read how rice and bean and plant eating immigrants come to America and suddenly start coming down with all sorts of ailments associated with our meat and potatoes and sugar water diet.

      • Money, if nothing else, gives you freedom and options. Having choices is ALWAYS better than not.

      • vboring says:


        I think Whiskey Jack’s point is that the survey data are comparing apples to hamburgers, as it were.

        If you can’t afford to eat in Uganda, it means you literally have zero food options. If you can’t afford to eat in the US, it sometimes probably just means you can’t afford disgusting crap that is advertised on TV. We are talking about survey data, after all.

        Basic food is very inexpensive and generally healthier than expensive options. From the book “Born to Run” one of the bits of advice for marathon training is to “eat like a poor person.” By which it means beans, rice, vegetables, and little or no animal protein. We’d probably all be healthier if we could follow this advice.

      • That a better criticism!

  14. Sterling86 says:

    It looks like this result is based on self reporting, saying that you have had trouble buying food is not the same as going hungry, I would doubt it is the case that 24% of americans are currently starving.

    • While we appreciate your doubt, you need to back that up with more than “Doesn’t sound right to me.”

      Do you have any sort of data, analysis, survey, ANYTHING other than a hunch?

      • mathdock says:

        Barry, here is a piece of data. EVERY American above the poverty line, by definition, can afford the real staples of food. EVERY American below 33% above the poverty line can afford a free ObamaSnap Card and a free ObamaPhone. They are free. Every American can receive urgent medical care in an emergency room, with extreme cases at no cost.

        It sucks for those in those bad situations, but EVERY AMERICAN can afford nutritious food. Period. How? Choose those items FIRST. Treats like corn chips come when life gets better. What percent of Americans fall through the cracks for whatever good reason? Not 24%.

        Who does my heart bleed for? Working moms without a dad around. I wrote about my life circumstances in another post that may or not pass muster. Even with my dad there too, it was a close call financially when they were in nursing school. I learned a LOT about choosing smart from them coping on the edge.

      • Fair enough argument — but we still have to acknowledge that this methodology shows the US COMPARATIVELY to other nations.

        Why is America, the world’s greatest country, doing so poorly on a relative basis?

      • vboring says:

        Alternatively, the questions might be:

        1) Why are Americans worse at food budgets?
        2) Why do Americans have higher expectations of what constitutes basic food?
        3) Why is food in America different?

        The problem could be as simple as switching from monthly food stamp issuance to weekly (to avoid long periods of time without any food money available) and refocusing the food stamp program on ingredients instead of ready to eat products.

        Or it could be that we have a huge farm and food processing lobby that keeps low quality product on the table for poor people making the path of least resistance the one that leads to obesity, diabetes and hunger. – This is something most other advanced countries don’t have.

        It is pretty easy to paint US poor as either victims or spoiled and lazy.

      • flakester says:

        Surely you have opinions about why the US is doing so poorly.

      • Post credit crisis explains the weak recovery, but these are longer secular trends

  15. constantnormal says:

    The reason for this is that this chart is based on the erroneous assumption that per capita GDP has meaning … here in Bananamerica we have three distinct economies, and when you per-capita average them, they come out looking like the Pew Research chart.

    Phil Davis has a chart showing pretty clearly the three segments of our Bananamerican economy …

    What would be more informative, would be if the folks at Pew broke the dot representing the U.S. into three dots …

  16. Pantmaker says:

    As a reminder, we are slogging through a tough economic period. I don’t give a frog’s fat ass about the record levels of the equity markets…they will self correct. Record corporate profits will cycle back to a leaner meaner stature as they always do….part of that move always involves higher, more competitive wages.

  17. constantnormal says:

    Actually, the chart Phil presents shows only how the national gain in wealth was carved up between 1983 and 2009 … if you want to get a more accurate picture, you want to slice the dot according to the actual wealth of the top 5%, the next 35%, using the data from this oft-referenced video clip … Wealth distribution in America (Flowing Data).

    The same skewed distribution is present in many of the other nations as well, as economic inequality is a global problem, and not restricted to us.

    Eventually, such inequality will lead to societal unrest, riots, and things will change … not necessarily for the better.

  18. Ooh, did someone let the GINI out of the bottle again?

    Someone seems to have forgotten that just 5 short years ago the overwhelming majority of Americans were financially raped, losing the overwhelming majority of their net worth (home equity) in the housing-fraud bubble. This of course is after they squandered their mortgage-equity withdrawals trying to maintain the illusion that they still lived in the good old days… The stock-market owners have been made whole since then (and then some), but for some reason that recovery hasn’t trickled down.

    Alternatively, a more conservative response might be that the problem isn’t just that minimum wage is so low compared to the expectations of an over-educated, under-employed labor force, but also that the marginal gain for workers at minimum wage is really far less than the minimum wage, because public benefits have become overly generous… In other words, “welfare + free time” beats “minimum wage in an unpleasant job” for more folks than it used to.

    The old-school argument that being on welfare is soul-destroying, and the old stigma against being on welfare, might have discouraged more people from taking the benefits in the past, but that has sort of been destroyed by the modern corporation’s treatment of its minimum-wage workers, which is equally soul-destroying in my opinion.

    The U.S. is really two countries. There are the high-cost areas on both coasts and in a few middle-American large cities, and then there is a lot of lower-cost, lower-income territory in between which still holds a large fraction of the population. The per-capita income belies a lot of inequality in both places.

    A liberal take would argue that the U.S. is also two countries in another sense. There are the mega-corporations, extracting from the populace far more in profits as a share of GDP (especially financials and healthcare) than was ever the case historically. The mega-corps have cartel-like control of pricing and production in most sectors of the economy, and have become expert at crushing opposition and competition alike. When the economy is optimized for corporate profits rather than for high levels of competitive innovation, prices are held higher (thus output is lower) and workers’ share of revenue (GDP) is suppressed as well. John Kenneth Galbraith’s book on the Great Crash of 1929 dissects this syndrome thoroughly. It’s a sick system and we need a new Sherman Antitrust warrior. Unfortunately we have Eric Holder.

  19. Concerned Neighbour says:

    The US practices socialism for the rich, and capitalism for the poor. The big CEO’s suckling at the public teat are fond of saying “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. In reality, there is very little equality of opportunity. In many ways the US is a backwards country.

  20. plm128 says:

    More Americans now have more “essential” monthly expenses including home internet and mobile phone plans which can total to $200 per month – how much food can you buy with another $2400 per year. You can get an HD antenna for about $25 (one time) and get 30 channels for FREE. Need a mobile phone for emergencies – well if you don’t already have the famous Obama phone you can get a Tracfone for $15 per month. Need internet – go to your local library, McDonald’s, Starbuck’s or Panera Bread – FREE. Americans also don’t spend they money wisely – they will spend $3 for breakfast every day instead of buying a $3 package of oatmeal which will provide 30 servicing for 10 cents a piece – another $1059 of savings per year. Small steps like this and a little sacrifice can save Americans almost $10 per day. Of course there are people who are single caregivers, elderly or disabled who our society should help but small changes like these can give the average American a 6-7% pay raise. Still can’t live without ‘Game of Thrones’ check out Ustream – multiple replays every Sunday night.

    • Didn’t Bush start the free cell phone program in 2008?

      I beli9eve it was expanded in 2009 under as part of the stimulus plan, but its W’s program.

      • 873450 says:

        These are facts Drudge refuses to report.
        It was actually Saint Ronnie who first gave free “life line” phone service to welfare queens when ATT broke up around 1984. His wife’s fortune teller advised him to call them Obama Phones. Subsequently, when land line use declined Czar George expanded his hero’s Obama Phone handout to include cell phone service. Obama caught a bad rap inheriting a free stuff for the takers program that by sheer coincidence bears his name from his socialist predecessors.

      • Petey Wheatstraw says:

        Same can be said of “Obamacare.” Actually it’s the ACA, and was originally and at its foundation a program developed by the Heritage Foundation and put into practice by the Mittster in Massachusetts. Not that Obama isn’t a corporatist in progressive clothing, anyway.

  21. nofoulsontheplayground says:

    We could make a case that low skill wages are discounted to reflect the likelyhood the earner will have their income supplemented by continuously expanding government social programs, be it SNAP, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credit, etc.

    In other words, Food Stamps are likely being factored in as a portion of compensation by both employer and recipient, although probably not overtly. A person willing to take a job at a very low wage often knows the government social programs they still qualify for, and the employer knows they can pay the lower wage because the labor market has already discounted these extras.

    • mlnberger says:

      wow, nofouls — you have just described the WalMart economy. but i see no sort of balancing mechanism of the sort Classical economists love: you know, if wages are low or stagnant because of increasing government support, then couldn’t it be argued that rising wages at the other end of the spectrum are the result of decreasing amounts of government assistance, however received?

      i could be wrong, but i just don’t see our fiscal and tax policies working in that fashion. in our world, making sure some kid has enough to eat is a sign of moral corruption, while goosing asset values held by a tiny minority of the population is seen as sound policy.

  22. Frilton Miedman says:

    The answer is simple.

    Legalized bribery, a system that’s designed to maximize the concentration of wealth for the highest bidder.

    We were once a Democracy that emerging third world nations aspired to become like, now, hopefully we can aspire to become like them.

  23. slowkarma says:

    My basic problem is that looking across the survey, I see countries like China, Jordan, Russia, Malaysia and Indonesia with lower rates than the U.S. I simply don’t believe those numbers. That doesn’t mean that the US doesn’t have a problem, but if some of the numbers are unbelievable, then exactly which ones should you believe? I have little faith in Pew numbers. Pew often seems to be driving a simplistic agenda with apparently scientific findings, but I actually spent some time (at Northwestern) studying statistics and sampling, and I know how easy it is to unintentionally bias numbers; and if you go after numbers with a bias, they *will* be biased, even if you create them with the best of will.

    Here is one source of bias: you conduct a survey of people in which the question is, “Did you have a moment last year when you couldn’t afford to buy food?” If you are a low wage person, or unemployed, what is the percentage in saying, “No?” If you are living close to the margin, and an official-sounding survey comes along, that you suspect might increase your benefits, why would you answer “No?” If you answer “No,” then you would have to believe that you are contributing
    to an argument against providing further help to persons like yourself. If enough people answer “Yes,” then maybe something good will happen. Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean that you won’t try to game the system.

    Here’s a source:

    The overall poverty rate in the US in 2012 according to government statistics is ~16 percent — quite a bit lower than the percentage of those who can’t afford food, which seems to me…odd. “Can’t afford food” seems almost to be the prime definition of “poor” — so why is the poverty rate lower than the rate of those who can’t afford to pay for food?

    If the survey question was, “Did you last year experience a moment when you couldn’t afford to buy food?” then that might solve the problem of why the “unable to buy food rate” rate is higher than the poverty rate — because poverty (or near poverty) may also mean having adequate money at one moment, but none at another, so the “unable to buy” rate could be higher than the poverty rate. But that problem is an individual one (the inability to spread resources to cope with needs) and would be hard to get at with the usual welfare techniques.

    Still, “unable to buy food” isn’t the same as “didn’t have enough to eat.” I live in one of the poorest states in the US, New Mexico, and there is very little hunger here. There is now, and always will be, hunger caused by parental neglect and social and governmental inefficiencies, as well as insolvable individual problems (lack of intelligence, diversion of food resources to other priorities, such as drug purchases, which is frightening common and visible here) and I really don’t know how those problems can be handled. They don’t reflect either a lack of resources or good intentions, but simply error, slippage and disastrous individual choices.

    I know for sure that there are people in the US who often don’t get enough to eat, and I support one of those people, a street schizophrenic in Los Angeles with whom I have had long conversations, and my conclusion with him is that there is little to be done, except what is being done. I don’t know if that is true in all such cases, but I suspect it is in most.

    I also have a friend who teaches in an inner city high school in Minneapolis. I’ve talked about poverty with him, and he says that he really doesn’t see hunger or clothing problems. The biggest problems he sees are active parental abuse, parental neglect, drug use, gang pressures, and hopelessness caused by lack of qualification for any desirable job.

    My bottom line on this chart is: (1) I find it intuitively unbelievable, which doesn’t mean much (2) I can see obvious sources of error which are not discussed (3) there seem to be some conflicts with other statistics such as the wiki cited above, that are inherently more believable. My biggest *problem* with it is that phony emergencies divert needed resources from real ones, and my bullshit detector tells me that somebody is ginning up a phony emergency.

    • Frilton Miedman says:

      I think the answer to the question of why more people can’t afford food relative to the rate of poverty lies in consumer debt.

      As wages decline, while costs like healthcare continue to creep up faster than GDP, household debt increases and the Fed continually cuts rates to offset the cost to service that debt while a bribed government’s policy-making to the benefit of the highest bidders/bribers continues.

      I cite healthcare as the best example, but it’s not the only example.

  24. Apinak says:

    Because we have an electoral system that lets the rich write our national policies and the rich choose to write policies that make themselves richer. Those policies include regressive taxation, anti-union policies, tax shelters and loopholes for rich and corporations, subsidies, lack of universal health care, deteriorating public schools, ‘free’ trade agreements, bailouts, lack of consumer protections, and numerous policies favoring the financial industry to name a few.

    A sizable proportion of American kids are growing up malnourished, in crime-ridden neighborhoods, with two working parents, poor health care, going to failing schools, and without hope of going to college. Yes, some people beat the odds and succeed, but most don’t. Because we are so worried that someone undeserving will get a free handout, we allow this to continue. In the long run it will be devastating for the entire economy.

  25. postman says:

    The percentages of those who can’t afford food are self-reported. “Can’t afford food” could be variously interpreted as anything from couldn’t buy enough food to stave off serious hunger/near-starvation to couldn’t include my kids’ favorite treats. It could also mean had enough to eat but couldn’t afford it on my own earnings and needed food stamps, subsidized school lunches, etc. Without knowing how the data were generated across countries I am more impressed (or depressed) by increase in this percentage over time in the US itself.

    • Are you aware how much data are “self-reported”?

      Unemployment rates
      Investor allocations
      Corporate profits
      Taxable income
      Consumer sentiment

      Its a huge subset of what we think of as data

  26. huguesm says:

    Hello Barry,

    Misleading charts like these always drive me crazy. Wealth obeys power law distributions whose average is absolutely meaningless, thus the fact that a country is rich in aggregate, like the US, means little if you’re poor. This would be like saying that Bill Gates and his gardener have an average wealth of 30 billion dollars.

    • Except that this chart uses the same methodology to COMPARE countries. So whether or not the basic mathematical approach is ideal, the RELATIVE data between the US and other countries is potentially significant.

      It is also consistent with the facts we already know about: Enormous increase in relative wealth, spread between wealthiest and poorest, as well as huge uptick in record number of people on Foodstamps.

      If you have a better critique of the chart, you need to explain away the facts.

      • huguesm says:

        It’s a fair criticism, and I should have been more precise. Past a certain aggregate wealth, countries are able to feed all of their citizens. In a country like the US, having 25% of the population unable to afford food is a policy choice, not an inevitability. Thanks for your comment.

  27. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    The next time I read someone in here using the term “Obamaphones,” I’m going to seriously jack their ass up.

    I can do it.

    You know I can.

    Don’t make me do it.

  28. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Our poor are well-hidden, in comparison to the last Great Depression. The bread line has been replaced by a shiny plastic debit card.

    These cards are estimated to put $4 Billion/yr., into the pockets of the soft drink industry.

    “New York officials estimate that $75 million to $135 million in food stamp benefits are spent on sugar-sweetened beverages in the city each year. Such beverages, they say, are the single largest contributor to the obesity epidemic.”

    The industry is fighting tooth and nail to stay on the qualified foods list.

    Marketing/lobbying for malnutrition.

  29. Bomber Girl says:

    US households appear to spend less on food in relative to income than other nations, developed or developing.


    while that doesn’t give enough info to get at an answer to the question, perhaps the relatively high level of income disparity which skews average gross incomes for americans vs, say our european peers, could explain why we have high income, average low outlay on foods, but high number of folks in low paying jobs who have trouble putting food on the table. some of the difference, likely, is also the (poor food) choices we make as well as perception, given so much food advertising and our tendency to compare ourselves to others around us, feeling like if we can’t provide our kids with those snacks, restaurant meals, etc, that we are falling short as parents/providers. as we say in Maine, hard tellin’, not knowin.

  30. constantnormal says:

    Interesting that the two nations on this chart that have the lowest fraction of their people unable to afford food are Japan and Lebanon. I have no idea what that means, if anything.

  31. lukeneyer says:

    Seems like a classic case of overfitting. Looking at the advanced economies, i don’t know how you can say that the general trend is for the affordability of food to go down as GDP increases linearly. South Korea and France have lower GDPs, but close to the same % of affording food. It would appear that after 20,000 GDP, the % affording food doesn’t decrease in a linear fashion.

  32. ironman says:

    Two things to consider:

    1. The U.S. is the only nation of those listed that mandates an ever increasing amount of fuel ethanol be made from corn. That has driven up the price of corn used for food, whether for people or for animals, the latter of which has tremendously forced up the price of meat produced in the U.S.

    2. The U.S. is the only nation of those listed that imposes a major tariff on sugar, an ingredient in many foods, which effectively doubles the price that U.S. consumers pay for sugar compared to every other nation in the world, which in turn, jacks up the relative prices of foods produced with real sugar in the U.S.

  33. lrh says:

    Who said “their favorite exercise is jumping to conclusions?” That’s a good one.

  34. Old Rob says:

    Fair reply on poorly worded comment. Some points.

    The chart leaves so many questions regarding the definition of food. Is it simply the sack of beans, or the processed foods we have today in the US? Also what is the tolerance level to the perceived affordability of food of the people in each of the very different countries? In this country, I am betting there an extremely low tolerance level in this regard.

    I have no idea where you or others in your home shop, but in eastern MA, a person buying food without an EBT card is a huge percentage. .

    In buying anything, if a large portion of the purchasers have money without the corresponding value transaction for that money, I would guess the price would rise without a necessary correlation to the cost of production. Some would refer to it as price inflation.

    Your counter-comment implies something about you.

  35. I grew up in rural Arkansas, am a farmer living in a large city in the South, and have some insights into what goes on down here. The comments about everyone being able to afford healthful foods is absolutely true. The US by most any non-wonky measure has the cheapest food in the world (I would love to see evidence otherwise if you have it.). The reality is simply that no one makes the choice to buy fresh vegetables instead of a bag of Doritos. This is in part because most inexpensive foods that are not junk have to be cooked, and in part because some people are still not well educated about which foods are bad for you. In today’s world both seem to brush with the “bad decisions” category.

    Some here have hinted but pinned down the idea of “what does it mean to be well fed?” Without an objective basket of goods comps between countries become difficult. But are specific goods the way to compare or should we be looking at nutritional values since goods differ by country? Certainly it would not seem that a McDonald’s only diet is a good basket, even though it provides most of what one needs to live.

    BR–put on your behavioral psych hat in thinking about this as self-reported and particularly perception based. It is logical that our heuristics in making judgments relative would severely affect results country to country. E.g. a poverty stricken fellow in Asia who still does well enough to eat meat twice a day would probably not report that he has trouble buying food because he is doing better than everyone around him who eats a single bowl of rice each day. Meanwhile someone in America who is living on subsidized food reports that he can’t afford to eat because he sees others eating steak, which he cannot afford. In this way there is a major difference in perception based, self-reported data within a single country versus across multiple countries.

    Specifically in the South, there are two groups of people that I do have extreme sympathy for:
    1. Those living on minimum wage in a city and who do not own a car
    2. Children whose parents are below the poverty line and think their children should be raised by schools

    The first group has a major problem in getting food. They live in neighborhoods that do not have any source of vegetables whatsoever. It might be 2 miles to the nearest store that sells any vegetables, canned, frozen or fresh. However, they have convenience stores that sell cigarettes, beer, and junk food. Without a car what are you going to do? It is easy to see that even if you know better it is difficult to make the right choice. I can’t tell you the number of times I stop in these neighborhoods to get gas or something to drink and see a woman with her children buying 10-20 bags of Cheetos at once.

    The second group represents what is in my world the biggest problem with hunger: Children whose parents do not feed them. These families are on Food Stamps and school lunch. The parents believe it is the school’s responsibility to feed their children. They buy no food whatsoever for their children, and the kids often literally do not eat on the weekends. This is a major problem in the South, and I suspect in all of the country. The parents go on to spend their Food Stamp dollars on cigarettes, beer, and cell phones. How you ask? My favorite scam, which I have now seen in person more than once is going to the grocery store, purchasing a single grape ($0.02 in cost), paying with EBT and getting $30.00 in cash back. There is a class of people who view their children as ATMs. On a recent school visit I asked a little girl what she wanted to do when she grows up. Her answer, which was so graphic that I have to paraphrase it: As soon as I can have a baby I am going to so that I can get a check. She was 9 years old.

    • vboring says:

      I had no idea you could get cash back from EBT. That just ruined my day.

      Now I’m going to be angry at everything.

      Why not just deliver the drugs, cigarettes and alcohol straight to their door and cut out the middleman?

    • MikeInSF says:

      Good points, re heuristics, etc. I must say, you had me right up until you mentioned the grape anecdote:

    • Frilton Miedman says:

      You went off on an elongated explanation of a non-problem.

      This isn’t about the cost of food, it’s about wages vs cost of living and what’s left over to purchase food.

      The mean cost of healthcare per person in the U.S. is $8,500.00, the median household income is +/-$50,000 for 2.6 people.

      How does someone who lives on $10,730 after healthcare pay rent, car, fuel, insurance, and still have a few bucks left to buy food?

      How does the 48% of the population living below median income do it?

  36. TapeReader says:

    Here are some thoughts on food prices affecting the mom & pop general store affecting single mothers…

  37. Petey Wheatstraw says:


    Te lack of honesty at the conclusion of your comment calls the rest of it into question:

    “People Getting Cash Back by Using Food Stamp/EBT Cards With Minimum Purchase at Gainesville Publix Store- Fiction!

    Summary of the eRumor:
    This is a forwarded email of an alleged eyewitness account of a transaction by a customer using an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card at a Publix Store on Main Street in Gainesville, Florida. The email said that the eyewitness was standing in line at the check out counter and saw a customer buy a single grape for 2 cents with an EBT card. The customer then asked for $24 in change back from the customer service representative and got it.

    The Truth:
    Transactions like this happen every day at this Gainesville Publix store, according to a company spokesperson, but the cards being used are not EBT or any sort of government issued assistance for food.

    The spokesperson told us that these cards are pre-loaded ATM cards handed out by a nearby plasma center who compensates donors for their time. He also told us that the donors are easy to spot as they shop for low cost sodas or chips to cash out their ATM cards. Their arms are bandaged near the elbow.”

    Jesus, dude: It’s the internet. At least check your own damned assertions before spreading the lie.

  38. SumDumGuy says:

    Point of data for folks who are saying that the majority of peeps in the US are on food stamps. It’s 15%. Certainly a lot but I don’t think it’s as big of an effect on food prices as you’re claiming.

  39. AHodge says:

    maybe we are the rich country who cares least. starting at the top.
    the po and the issue have publically dissappeared.
    im with this partly because i went last night w volunteer friend to a meeting
    a DC Soup kitchen n homeless help (showers etc) planning meeting

    i dont have solid solutions,
    but the whisky exchange above on dont know how to cook it
    is right on
    and think rather than checks
    they should in put a lot of families into a supervised living
    say run by salvation army volunteers of america?
    make sure the potatoes get peeled and the homework gets done,

  40. I don’t know to whom the benefits of inflation accrue, but it sure ain’t me.

    I believe the current and future cost of essentials–food, shelter, fuel, and healthcare–is increasingly beyond the reach of an ever growing segment of the population.

    We are lucky that we grow our own food; now I just need to find a doctor locally who might consider this:

  41. AHodge says:

    also many of the PO countries– the tan and green dots in your chart –are making great progress.
    The Economist latest cover article is titled Toward the end of Poverty.
    a much tough standard they use $1.50 day income.
    but says its cut in half last 20 years for po countries and could accelerate
    those dots, could be moving down closer to US level.

  42. To contribute some data and stats to this discussion . . .

    Hunger & Poverty Statistics (Feeding America)

    “An estimated 85.1 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout
    the entire year in 2011 (fig. 1, table 1A). In concept, “food secure” means that
    all household members had access at all times to enough food for an active,
    healthy life (Anderson, 1990). The remaining 14.9 percent (17.9 million households) were food insecure at some time during the year. That is, they were, at times, unable to acquire adequate food for one or more household members because they had insufficient money and other resources for food.”

    Household Food Security in the United States in 2011 (USDA)

    In addition, based on the most recent census data available, 2011, the upper income limits for the bottom two quintiles – 40% of households – were 20,262 and 38,520, respectively. The associated means were 11,239 and 29,204, respectively. In 1968, in 2011 dollars, these means were 10,232 and 27,432, so they’ve barely budged, unlike the income data for the upper quintiles and especially the highest income groups.

    A great many of these lower quintile households are going to struggle without outside support, and that includes households in the second quintile if there are children.

    Anyone who thinks there shouldn’t be a problem because of cheap and plentiful food isn’t paying attention.

  43. formerlawyer says:

    I am curious about the connection between these results and our screwed up medical system? If it is a matter of extra food for your children or medical care for them, what would you choose?

    IIRC there was a TV segment on parents who turned down an increase in salary in order to stay on government benefits (in Colorado no less) because the net change in income resulted in a worse life situation. The cuts to the state and federal social safety net have increased these holes and creates a perverse trap for the low to moderate income families e.g. too poor to accumulate capital, buy a home etc. – not poor enough for government benefits unless the refuse increases in salary.

    To AHodge: you mean like the poorhouses in Ireland? Not in my America. Criminalizing poverty is not the solution .

  44. Willy2 says:

    I only can offer a partial explanation. Up to say 1980 US workers enjoyed – on average – each year a healthy wage increase. Their purchasing power was very well maintained. And there was a honest CPI calculation.

    Since say 1980 US things changed. After say 1979, if the REAL (price) inflation was say 4%, then the official inflation (as reported by the government) was say 3% and then companies would give employees a payrise of only say 2%. So, the purchasing power of the average wage kept falling after 1980. No wonder more and more people can’t afford food.

  45. Willy2 says:

    I take issue with the words: “The US is a rich country”.

    Yes, all US shares, US bonds and US real estate is still worth A LOT. That’s the net worth on the debit side of the ledger. Against that wealth there’s still A LOT OF debt (some $ 57 trillion) on the credit side of the ledger. So, the total net worth of US assets could actually be negative.

  46. AHodge says:

    well im not thinking of a 19th century dickensian version formerlawyer
    just trying to think..
    what to do with parents with borderline drug alcohol skills literacy etc etc problems
    somehow checks or cards w some of the problems above and the occasional caseworker visit doesnt cut it
    and being literally homeless, no roof, partly with public shelters so bad unsafe— doesnt cut it.
    it could be temporary maybe graduation expected otherwise for the bad cases may have to place the kids as happens a lot now……

  47. DTouche says:

    People have litte free time and/or energy to prepare meals. Instead processed foods that are higher in price are substituted for traditional and affordable staples that require work and time to prepare. Cheap healthy food is available for those with the ability to utilize it I(both here and in South Korea where I work two months out of the year).

    The reasons why different groups of people have little free time or energy to purchase, prepare and consume affordable and healthy food range from overachieving, working hard and long to keep up consumption or pay for past consumption, or mentally checking out due to losing hope (internal or external causes or both simultaneously).

  48. Rowan says:

    Perhaps, because the US, unlike of many of the countries shown in that chart, doesn’t, as a policy, redistribute the wealth of its citizens.

    If those so called 400 wealthiest Americans got on that plane and emigrated to SIngapore, America might suddenly become a very averagely wealthy nation.

    Regarding food and choices, don’t forget the amount of time it takes to go to the store, buy the vegetables, proteins etc. go home and spend nearly an hour cooking it all. if you are working two jobs, its easier and cheaper to go to Maccy D’s and get the extra sleep. A bag of spinach costs around the same price as happy meal.

  49. msherwood1 says:

    As a court-appointed Attorney for the Child in upstate New York, I can say with (anecdotal) confidence that government “safety-net” programs are designed in such a way such that there is a perverse incentive for non-wage earning women to have additional children.

    Were government safety-net programs designed in exactly the opposite way (i.e. incentives given to indigent women to NOT have children), a great deal of the food issues discussed above would alleviate, I believe.

    • Frilton Miedman says:

      Now there’s an interesting idea – rather than address disparity or wage growth, let’s stem population growth at a time when baby-boomers are retiring as fast as population growth.

  50. end game says:

    Exactly. Apparently Tamarisk has been inside the homes of 26% of the students in his community (a “majority” of “51 percent”) to verify that they have flat-screen TVs, somehow welcomed despite his apparent disdain for them. Why he would condemn a family withh insufficient nutrition to a lifetime without a $300 TV is a question that we can ponder for a long time.

  51. victor says:

    More anecdotal stuff. Relatives from Eastern Europe (ex. USSR) are visiting us as we speak. They are struck by “how cheap food is here” when at a Wal-Mart Superstore or a Mac Donald’s relative to the minimum wage here. Conversely they could not believe how expensive a pizza was at the California Pizza Kitchen (advertised as” authentic California style cuisine”). Then they witnessed in disbelief “free” breakfast and lunch brought by paid caterers into the class I volunteer to tutor Algebra 1 to 7th graders in my town. Most kids would throw away the milk (tastes “yucky”) and buy sodas at the school’s machine. They asked me to tell them that in Belarus throwing food away is considered a “sin”; the kids just laughed. By the way sadly, my relatives compared the level of the kids’ 7th grade Algebra knowledge to that taught in lower grades in impoverished Belarus and Moldova.

  52. Malachi says:

    They say laughter is the best medicine. If so, thanks for the healing Barry.