We often think of food insecurity and hunger as something that happens in other countries, or only in the poorest parts of our nation. But the reality is that people are hungry all over the country, including in some of the nation’s wealthiest towns and counties.
Food insecurity is certainly more prevalent in poor or rural areas, yet it exists in affluent counties at a surprisingly high rate—and often among children. Feeding America’s 2017 report on food insecurity by county in the U.S. (which used 2015 data) found that many wealthy counties have relatively high rates of food insecurity. For example, Arlington County, Virginia, which boasts the highest median family income in the nation, still has a food insecurity rate of 8 percent, the report found.
And percentages don’t tell the whole story, the report notes, especially in counties with huge populations. For example, in Suffolk County, New York, which encompasses wealthy New York City, the relatively low food insecurity rate of 6 percent belies that fact that more than 88,000 people in the county are food insecure. Similar phenomena are at work in the counties that encompass Los Angeles and Chicago.
The cost of living—especially the price of food—plays a role in hunger in wealthy areas. In many affluent counties, especially those near metro areas, you can expect to pay a higher price for a meal. In Arlington County, Virginia, for example, the average price per meal is $3.82, compared with a national average of $2.94 in the continental U.S., the report found.
“While households in such areas typically have higher-than-average median incomes, the local population may also include many service-industry and custodial workers for whom higher costs can be particularly challenging,” the report said.
In affluent counties like these, even those with full-time jobs often can’t afford three meals a day.
“We are helping the working poor,” Jennifer Montgomery, the head of Loudon Interfaith Relief, told USA TODAY in 2015. Her food pantry is located in Loudon County, Virginia, which that year boasted a median income of $122,000 a year, yet faced a childhood food insecurity rate of 9 percent.
Although the end of the Great Recession has eased some of the food insecurity rates in affluent areas, these counties still face major effects from food insecurity. In wealthy school districts, children come to school hungry. And food insecurity can drive up health care costs because poor nutrition can cause long-lasting health problems.
Many wealthy counties have recognized the problem and are taking steps to fight it. For example, Montgomery County, Maryland, which is one of the 25 wealthiest counties in the U.S., has a childhood food insecurity rate of 13 percent, according to Feeding America. So in April 2017, the county published its first-ever Food Security Plan. The plan recommends strategies aimed at reducing the number of food insecure people in the county by 22 percent in three years.
“Those who struggle with hunger often live in plain sight,” Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett says in the plan.
Hunger is truly all around us, and food insecurity exists in every county in the United States. What are you doing to alleviate hunger in your area? Share your ideas with us in the comments.