By Susannah Morgan, CEO, Oregon Food Bank
There is actual, honest-to-Betsy, I-kid-you-not good news out this week. According to USDA, food insecurity in Oregon dropped down by 31 percent from 2015 to 2018; Oregon is finally at the level of hunger we experienced before the Great Recession.
Let me say that again – as a state, in this past year, Oregon has finally RETURNED to rate of hunger we experienced in 2008. It took a decade for families to recover from the worst economic crisis of my generation.
And remember the kids. Take a moment and imagine the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who were kids between 2008 and 2018, whose childhoods will be forever marked by the hunger and economic stress of this last decade.
At Oregon Food Bank, we believe that hunger is not just an empty stomach or an individual experience. Hunger is community-wide symptom of exclusion, of not having enough – not having enough nutritious food, enough income, enough power, enough represented voice.
It took a decade for hunger to decrease because our neighbors facing hunger did not have access to living wages or to affordable housing. Systemic problems require systemic solutions.
And in fact, Oregon stepped up with a systemic solution. In 2016, Oregon passed a landmark minimum wage law, creating a three-tiered rate that requires employers to provide increases annually from 2016 to 2022. At Oregon Food Bank, we hear from folks who no longer need food assistance because their wages have increased. Several other states also enacted minimum wage increases in the past few years, including Nebraska, Colorado and New York. And which other states saw significant drops in the rates of hunger? Nebraska, Colorado, and New York.
The root causes of hunger matter.
The other truth is, of course, is that despite the fact that we are celebrating a whopping big decrease in the rate of hunger – hunger still affects way too many people.
One in nine households in Oregon still experience food insecurity, in line with the national average. This means that more than 480,000 Oregonians struggle to afford food, the equivalent of the combined population of Eugene, Gresham, Bend and Medford.
Food insecurity among African American and Native American households are more than double the rate of white households in Oregon, and Latinx families also face higher rates of hunger. Institutionalized racism is a profound root cause of hunger.
So we have still have work to do – and it is systemic work, which is hard and slow and frequently thankless. But it works. So I’m ALL IN. Won’t you join me?
September is Hunger Action Month – the nationwide effort to mobilize communities to take action on the issue of hunger. Too many Oregonians still experience hunger. To eliminate hunger in Oregon, we must meet today’s needs and tackle tomorrow’s challenges.
Take action today. Together, we can end hunger. We’ll work on two fronts in our mission to end hunger – by building community connections to access nutritious, affordable food today and by building community power to eliminate the root causes of hunger for good.