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NOT SHOCKED: Five States With the Worst Food Insecurity are “Right-to-Work” States

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A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research (USDAER) provides details on our growing trend of food (in)security.  Currently, an estimated 14.5 American households are having difficulties providing enough food for their families.  In 7 million homes a family member has skipped meals because money was tight.  A look at the five states where food insecurity is a problem (North Carolina, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi) reveals several common threads.  

These states are among the nation’s poorest, which is a major factor in their inability to provide nutritious food.  These states also share “Right-to-Work” status. As has been documented, union density is intimately linked to middle class strength and higher wages blunt the impact of income inequality.  

All five of the aforementioned states also voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election and four of the five have Republican Governors. Arkansas’ Mike Beebe is the exception.

These states also have the highest levels of obesity because low quality food, even when not abundant, is a major factor in poor health.

Ross Fraser, spokesperson for hunger-relief charity Feeding America, explains this phenomenon:

It may surprise some that, in fact, the majority of the 10 states with food access problems have higher-than-average obesity rates. Mississippi and Arkansas had the second- and third-highest obesity rates in the country in 2012. “The lack of healthy food among families in these states,” explained Fraser, “is one of the reasons you have very poor people who are obese. It is because they’re not able to afford nutritious and high-protein food.”

Based on a three-year average between 2010 and 2012, the USDA’s report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2012, identifies the states with the highest proportion of residents who had low or very low food security. The report measures how many households have low food security — defined as being able to eat three square meals a day, but forced to reduce the quality of the food they eat — and very low food security — defined as having food intake reduced and eating patterns disrupted because of a lack of affordability. The 2000-2002 and 2007-2009 averages also were considered. 24/7 Wall St. also reviewed poverty, income, education and food stamp recipiency data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, as well as the obesity and access to food data for 2012 from the Gallup-Healthways 2012 Well-Being Index.

The USDAER report shows that policy can affect wages enough to create scenarios in which families are unable to put food on their tables.  These statistics lend some credence to the argument that “Right-to-Work” is a race to the bottom approach. The report’s Mississippi breakdown is provided as evidence:

Low food security homes: 20.9%
Very low food security homes: 6.9% (5th highest)
Median household income: $36,919 (the lowest)
Percent obesity: 32.2% (2nd highest)

One in every five households experienced food insecurity in Mississippi. Residents of the state were among the poorest in the nation in recent years by numerous measures. In 2011, Mississippi had the lowest median household income in the nation, at $36,919, as well as its highest poverty rate, at 22.6% of all residents. Last year, one in four respondents to a Gallup survey stated they had, at some point, lacked the money necessary to feed their family. Even when residents could ensure they did not have to cut back on their meals because of low food security, many likely often had to eat nutritionally poor food. Mississippi residents had among the highest obesity rates in the country.

While not every food related problem can be fixed by higher wages, policies that intentionally lower wages must be taken to task. They are a troubling, culpable piece of America’s deteriorated health puzzle.


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