Long-term unemployment creates long-term need as poorest of poor get poorer

October 29, 2012
Emergency food box recipient

4,599 low-income households speak out

Oregon Food Bank Network of Regional Food Banks releases biennial hunger survey results 

Why do so many families seek emergency food?

Long-term unemployment, persistent underemployment, inadequate SNAP benefits and the high cost of food, gasoline, utilities and rent are the leading reasons people seek emergency food, according to the 2012 biennial Hunger Factors Assessment released today by the Oregon Food Bank Network of Regional Food Banks. 

The OFB Network of Regional Food Banks conducts the Hunger Factors Assessment (HFA) every two years. This year, 4,599 emergency-food recipients at 162 pantries in Oregon and Clark County, Wash., completed the survey.

The survey also shows the poorest of the poor are getting poorer.  Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61 percent) reported a drop in monthly income during the past two years. Nearly, 75 percent reported incomes below the federal poverty line (gross income of $23,050 for a family of four).

“We were faithful donors to the food pantry before we went down to a one-person income. Thank you for helping us during this difficult time,” said one survey respondent.

“We’ve lost our business, our work, our home and have sold our stuff. God help us if things don’t change,” another survey respondent said.

“Political candidates on both sides of the aisle tell us what they’ll do for the middle class. But we hear little about what they’ll do to help those who live in poverty,” said Janeen Wadsworth, interim CEO of Oregon Food Bank. “The Hunger Factors Assessment paints a vivid picture of who is hungry and why. Once families have lost their jobs, their savings and their homes, it can take years for them to get back on their feet again.”

For the second year in a row, the Oregon Food Bank Network distributed more than one million (1,117,673) emergency food boxes from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. That’s a 9 percent increase over the previous year.

“We are seeing more and more families with children who are working yet still struggle to feed their families due to the rising cost of living,” said Captain Dwayne Patterson, Salvation Army – Moore Street, one of the 162 pantries that participated in the survey.

“Food is a basic human need. It is unconscionable that more than a third of those eating meals from emergency food boxes are children. Congress must adequately fund SNAP. Underfunding these programs would cause irreparable harm to low-income people, particularly children,” Wadsworth stated.

4,599 survey respondents speak out

When asked: “What happened to bring you to a food pantry?”

• More than half (56 percent) of the respondents said they ran out of SNAP benefits (“food stamps”). That compares to 50 percent in 2010.

• Almost half (48 percent) of the respondents cited high food cost as one reason they needed emergency food, compared to 44 percent in 2010.

 “SNAP limits need to be raised to adjust for higher food costs,” wrote one respondent.

 “The cost of food has gone up, but the amount of SNAP stays the same,” stated another respondent.

• 40 percent cited high gasoline costs, a sharp jump from 29 percent in 2010.

“Gas and health care are too expensive,” one respondent wrote.

• 27 percent said long-term unemployment forced them to seek emergency food, compared
to 22 percent in 2008, before the recession.

 “We’ve been unemployed more than two years. We keep applying. There are jobs, but we haven’t had luck getting them. Please tell elected officials the recession isn’t over yet,” said a survey respondent.

• About a fifth (18 percent) report they need help because their wages are too low.

“If we had better jobs, we wouldn’t need to ask for something as basic as food,” wrote one respondent.

“I have a bachelor’s degree and have been looking for work for 2.2 years. The only work I’ve found is for low wages,” wrote another respondent.

“Many jobs don’t pay enough to cover the basics,” stated another.

• And a quarter of respondents cited high rent or mortgage.
“The 2012 Hunger Factors Assessment results clearly show the continuing fallout of the massive job losses caused by the recession and the need for adequate support for SNAP,” said Wadsworth. “Congress’s proposed cuts to SNAP would greatly increase the number of Oregonians seeking emergency food and would simply overwhelm our network.”

The bright spot:

The one bright spot of the survey shows that even though the hole is deep, some people are beginning to dig out. Households reporting at least one member with a full-time job increased from 22 percent in 2010 to 27 percent in 2012. 

How to help:
You can help: Give funds. Give food. Give time. Give voice.

Visit for a summary of the statistics from the 2010 Hunger Factors Assessment and the 2009-10 OFB Network statistics.

About the Hunger Factors Assessment
The Oregon Food Bank Network of Regional Food Banks conducts the Hunger Factors Assessment every two years to better understand the causes and conditions of hunger from people seeking emergency food. The OFB Network of Regional Food Banks has conducted the survey 13 times since 1986. This year, 162 emergency food pantries distributed the survey to emergency food-box recipients during a two-week period in April. Oregon Food Bank analyzed the data of the 4,599 completed surveys, which represent a balanced sampling of households served throughout Oregon as well as Clark County, Wash.

About the Oregon Food Bank Network
The Oregon Food Bank Network is a cooperative, statewide coalition of 20 regional food banks, working to eliminate hunger and its root causes. Oregon Food Bank is the statewide hub of the Network, distributing donated food from a variety of sources to 16 independent regional food banks and four OFB branches. They, in turn, distribute the food to 945 agencies and programs serving low-income people in their communities.


Key findings of the OFB Network 2012 Hunger Factors Survey

The poorest of the poor get poorer.

• Nearly two-thirds of respondents (61 percent) reported a drop in monthly income during the past two years.

• 74 percent reported incomes below the federal poverty line. That compares to 67 percent in 2008 at the beginning of the recession.

U.S. Census Bureau reported the number of Oregonians in poverty shot up to 17.5 percent in 2011 from 15.8 percent in 2010.

Long-term unemployment forces more people to seek emergency food.

• 27 percent of respondents said long-term unemployment was a major reason they sought emergency food. That compares to 22 percent in 2008 at the beginning of the recession.

• 34 percent of households had at least one person looking for work, compared to 20 percent in 2008.
Persistent underemployment

Oregon’s economy is producing jobs, but many of those jobs pay too little to support a family and to keep up with rising costs. The living wage for a single adult in Oregon in 2010 was $15.20 per hour. But of all job openings in Oregon in 2010, more than half (52 percent) paid less than $15.20 per hour. On average, every job opening paying $15.20 per hour or more had 14 job seekers.

• About a fifth (18 percent) of respondents said they need help because their wages were too low.

• 21 percent of recipient households had at least one family member who was working part-time.

• Only 27 percent of households had at least one family member who was working full time.

SNAP benefits (“food stamps”) don’t last the entire month 

The main purpose of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is to increase the purchasing power of low-income households so they can have a more nutritious diet.  As of September 2012, 808,817 Oregonians were receiving SNAP.  That’s an 86 percent increase since 2007.

The average benefit was $129 per person per month or about $1.44 per meal. The USDA estimates that a low-cost, nutritionally adequate diet of home-cooked meals would cost about $2.60 per meal for an adult male and $2.26 per meal for an adult woman.

It’s a common misconception that SNAP provides all the food resources for a household. When asked how long their SNAP benefits last, only 9 percent said their benefits lasted all month:
• All month: 9 percent
• Three weeks: 35 percent
• Two weeks: 31 percent
• Less than two weeks: 25 percent

High cost of food, gas, utilities and rent make it more difficult to afford food

The high cost of food, gas, utilities and rent squeezes family budgets. Gasoline is critical in rural areas, which lack public transportation and where residents must drive long distances to get to work or to access food, forcing families to choose between gasoline or food.

• Nearly half of the survey respondents cited high food cost as a reason for seeking food assistance.

• Those who cited high gasoline prices as the reason they needed help feeding their family increased sharply from 21 percent in 2000 to 29 percent in 2010 to 40 percent in 2012.

• Those citing high heating costs jumped from 30 percent in 2010 to 35 percent in 2012.

Demographic information:

• Children are disproportionately represented in hunger and poverty: 34 percent of those eating meals from an emergency food box are children 17 and under. That compares to current state population estimates for children of 22.3 percent.

• Average family size: 3.4 persons.

• One in five recipient households had one or more veterans living in them.

• 7 percent of recipient household members were 65 or older.

• Average age: 48.