Last Wednesday, the nonprofit group Hunger Free America released a new report that concluded that despite an overall decrease, there are still 1 million New Yorkers living in hunger.
The number of people living in food insecure households dropped by 22 percent over the last six years, according to the report, from 1.4 million in 2012 to 1.09 million in 2017. But that number is still higher than the pre-Great Recession figures, the data shows.
In the last three years, 12.8 percent of the city’s population suffered from hunger, including 8.6 percent of all children and 10.9 percent of all seniors.
“They’re not starving to death the way you might see in North Korea or Honduras or Somalia,” said Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America. “But they’re choosing between food and medicine, they’re rationing food.”
In Queens, the number of food insecure residents actually increased slightly over the last six years by 0.03 percent, or roughly 10,000 residents. In 2017, 202,417 people were reported as suffering from hunger, which is nine percent of the borough’s population.
Berg said while the organization doesn’t have the “perfect” answers as to why that figure increased, his guess is that the cost of housing has exploded.
“Queens and Staten Island were thought to be these bedroom, middle-class places that just didn’t have this problem. That’s just not the case anymore,” he said. “This is the place you came to if you couldn’t afford to be in Manhattan. Now, you can’t afford to be here.”
Additionally, Queens is home to many new immigrants, as half of the borough’s population is foreign-born.
While census data shows that new immigrants tend to be more impoverished and have lower incomes than native-born Americans, in the long term immigrants actually have less poverty overall than native-borns Americans.
The report also shows that hunger in Brooklyn went down dramatically, nearly nine percent, over the last six years. However, like the citywide average, that figure is still higher than the pre-recession number.
Still, nearly 369,000 Brooklyn residents suffer from food insecurity.
This data is important because sooner or later, Berg said, the economy will enter a recession, and food insecurity will rise.
“When the economy inevitably goes south, you’re going to have very, very significant problems,” he said.
Hunger Free America also conducted its annual survey of Emergency Food Programs and concluded that 70 percent of these programs in Queens have experienced in increase in the number of people served. Brooklyn reported a whopping 86 percent increase.
Councilman Peter Koo said though the City Council increased spending on food initiatives, including allocations to three food pantries in his district, all of them have reported more people being served.
“They line up in the morning, sometimes around the block,” Koo said. “That means our community, our people, are not making enough to go to supermarkets to buy their stuff or they’re not aware of SNAP programs.
“We are living in a paradox,” the councilman added. “We’re the richest country and the richest city, but we have some the highest poverty.”
Berg said the cost of ending hunger in New York City is approximately $569 million. To that end, Hunger Free America is continuing to advocate for policies such as minimum wage hikes, increased funding for food pantries and soup kitchens and easier access to food stamp programs.
Despite the progress, Berg said there is still one issue that is driving food insecurity.
“The answer is housing, housing and housing,” he said. “It’s just not affordable.”