Childhood hunger continues to plague Texas
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 16.7 million children under 18 live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food, which is necessary for a healthy life.
To put it into perspective, Texas has the second-largest number of starving children in the nation. The saying goes, “everything is bigger in Texas,” and that includes childhood hunger.
Childhood hunger is portrayed in the media as an international problem, yet many fail to realize the child hunger epidemic in our own backyards here in the state of Texas.
My mother was a single mother of twins, and she worked multiple jobs to support our family. Despite all her hard work, sometimes she was unable to put food on the table. I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Well, don’t they feed children in schools?”
Yes, some students are fed at school, since they qualify for school lunch programs. However, in order for a family of three to qualify for free lunch, they have to make less than $25,389 a year. So, for many low-to-middle-class families, they are stuck between a rock and hard place.
They make more than the income eligibility requirement, but they can’t afford to send their children to school with lunch every single day or give them lunch money.
Houston is a city of more than 100,000 diners, fast food chains and restaurants, yet “your next-door neighbor, fellow church member or your child’s classmate will go to bed hungry tonight,” according to David Nasby of General Mills.
One in four children in the Houston area are food-insecure; therefore, they live with the constant threat of being hungry or not having access to enough nutritious food. With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, it is of the essence to shine a light on the issue of child hunger not only in Houston, but all across Texas.
In 2010, there were 400,000 children in the Houston area experiencing childhood hunger. Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign found that students who eat breakfast attended an average of 1.5 more days of school than their peers who did not have that advantage.
The students who ate breakfast also received math scores 17.5 percent higher than their starving peers. Students who do not eat breakfast have a diminished capacity to be able to learn and comprehend the material that is being taught. It is hard to learn when one is consumed with hunger.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food is a basic physiological need. If that need is not met, it is impossible to have safety, esteem or self-actualization.
No, food alone doesn’t account for children’s lack of ability to learn, but it will improve their ability to focus and hopefully begin to close the gap.
Poverty-stricken students graduate from high school at drastically lower rates than their well-fed peers. Even lower rates of these children are able to pursue higher education.
The food-secure high school graduates earn on average $10,090 more annually than their non-diploma-holding counterparts and are significantly less likely to experience hunger in adulthood.
Because of the lack of educational opportunities, famished students are forced to work low-wage jobs; therefore, they are living at or barely above the national and state poverty lines.
This reality leads to these students continuing to experience hunger in adulthood, which then revives the cycle of hunger with their children.
Some conservatives believe that it is the responsibility of the local and state governments to solve the problem of childhood hunger, not the national government.
However, in states like Texas, a predominately Republican state, citizens are not likely to vote in favor of increasing funding to aid families and individuals who are destitute because of a lack of access to nutritious foods.
They believe that more than enough taxpayers’ dollars are utilized by low-income families who are a continued burden on society.
However, by funding programs that feed needy children, they will be able to have the healthy sustenance that they desperately need, which will lead to better scores on assignments, increased rates of graduation and matriculation into higher education.
Consequently, this leads to decreasing the amount of people in poverty and breaking the cycle of childhood hunger. These benefits also include no longer being a burden to society, since they will be financially secure and independent, without a need for government assistance.
It is blasphemous that in such a rich and developed country, 25 percent of our children do not have food to eat and have to constantly worry if and when their next meal will come.
Child hunger is contributing to children’s lack of educational attainment and therefore thrusting them into a poverty-ridden adulthood and continuing this cycle into the next generation. If childhood hunger is not addressed, it will continue to grow significantly.
Everything is bigger in Texas, and unfortunately, that includes childhood hunger. We must alleviate this issue now.
LaQuasha Burke is a social work graduate student and may be reached at [email protected]