US food insecurity: The rising cost of living makes it hard for people with jobs to feed their families


The mix of locals visiting Enfield Food Shelf in Connecticut has changed a lot in the past few years.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many of them were elderly or disabled on fixed incomes, said Kathleen Sovigny, the food pantry’s executive director for the past decade.

But now, more people seeking help are working families struggling to make ends meet The cost of living is skyrocketing. pay for Child care, Housing, Cars, The heating And other basic needs do not leave enough money these days foodwhose prices have also risen sharply, Sovini hears again and again.

“Most of the new people are working families,” she said. “Many jobs don’t pay enough to cover expenses and have little savings. One unexpected expense now appears to be impacting people’s finances.

Between 300 and 400 families visit the Enfield Food Shelf in Connecticut each week.

although The American economy is strong By many measures, millions of Americans still cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families. The proportion of people turning to hunger relief programs remains higher than before the pandemic.

Just over 1 in 10 adults — more than 23 million people — live in households where they sometimes or often had enough food in the past week, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent Household Pulse Survey, which found Conducted in March. In Connecticut, where median income is higher than the U.S. average, the share is closer to 1 in 8.

the Hyperinflation The activity that started in 2021 has slowed, but prices are still much higher and continue to put heavy pressure on wallets. Groceries cost about 33.5% more than they did at the start of the pandemic, according to Datasembly’s Grocery Price Index, which tracks prices at more than 150,000 stores nationwide.

while Jobs are abundant Wage increases exceeded inflation last year, and paychecks haven’t proven enough for many people. Moreover, many Supports the epidemic That helped keep Americans afloat – incl Enhance the child tax credita Stop paying student loans And More generous food stamp benefits – Expired.

“It’s a tough environment for people,” said Jason Jakubowski, CEO of Connecticut Foodshare, the state’s food bank, which partners with more than 600 food pantries, meal programs and mobile distribution sites that provided more than 40 million meals in the last fiscal year. . “We are at a point where the need is about the same as it was at the height of the pandemic.”

Even though Khamphay Khin works full-time as a supervisor at a distribution company and has a part-time job as an assistant technician at a fast food restaurant, he still finds it difficult to provide for all the needs of his family of six.

So he’s been visiting his local Enfield pantry since 2021 to pick up meat, pasta, spaghetti sauce, bread, cereal, fruits and vegetables. Initially, he went every two weeks, but now the 48-year-old goes weekly as his expenses increase – despite receiving generous raises from his main employer in recent years.

Khamphay Khin shops at the Enfield Food Shelf to help feed his family of six.

“The need is greater. Costs are still high. Gas prices are high. Owning a home is tough,” said Khin, who recently had to spend $1,400 to buy new tires, replace the starter and make other repairs on his 2005 Honda Odyssey. “Every time.” “I look at my bank account, it’s always going down.”

The pantry helps keep tabs on his grocery bills, saving him an estimated $30 to $50 a week, so he has the money to spend on other necessities for himself and his family. Khin is also trying to get rid of money because he suffers from muscular dystrophy and knows he will not be able to work as much in the future.

Khin, who considers himself lower-middle class, didn’t think he’d need to visit the food pantry because he’s been working since he was a teenager.

“I’m in a good place, but not a great place,” he said.

The Enfield Food Shelf serves between 300 and 400 families weekly. In addition to food, the nonprofit also provides other items, such as clothing, laundry detergent, diapers and pet food.

Like most other stores, Enfield saw a A surge in people He asked for help when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in early 2020. But demand did not abate – in part because many pandemic relief programs had expired.

When the nationwide special food stamp boost ended in March 2023, recipients’ monthly benefits were reduced by about $90 on average. Since then, Enfield has witnessed A 20% jump in the number of families seeking assistance, bringing the total to 1,126 people visiting the pantry.

“People try to stay within their budget at the grocery store, but the food isn’t enough to feed their families,” Sovigny said, noting that most shoppers come three times a month.

Food banks across the country are also seeing increased demand. About 75% of food banks reported they saw an increase in the number of people served in February compared to the previous year, according to a recent study by Feeding America, a national network of more than 200 food banks and more than 60,000 partner agencies. Pantries and meal programs.

The need for food assistance is about the same as it was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Jason Jakubowski, CEO of Connecticut Foodshare.

About one in six adults said their household received charitable food last year, up from about one in eight in 2019, according to the Urban Institute report.

In addition to rising prices, another pressure on many middle-class families is that their wages have not kept up with inflation as well as those of their counterparts at the bottom and top of the income scale, says Chloe East, a visiting fellow at the Institute. The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. That’s one reason working Americans are turning to food pantries.

“Even though there are a lot of job opportunities available, and the unemployment rate is low, we are seeing food insecurity increasing,” East said. “And now food insecurity is just as bad as it was in the first few months of the pandemic.”

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