Hunger Carries High Price Tag

Heller School professor Donald Shepard
Heller School professor Donald Shepard

A new study released in October by researchers at the Heller School and the Center for American Progress finds that the social and economic cost of hunger and food insecurity in the United States in 2010 tallied $167.5 billion, not counting federal expenditures to address hunger.

The report, “Hunger in America: Suffering We All Pay For,” calls this cost America’s hunger bill. Due to the far-reaching impact of hunger, the “bill” cost every American $542 annually in 2010. The report indicates that the number of food insecure and hungry Americans jumped by 30 percent from 2007, before the onset of the recession, to 2010, the latest period for which data are available. In that same period, the cost of hunger, above federal expenditures, rose by more than 33 percent.

“This increase in food insecurity and America’s hunger bill over these three years demonstrates the breadth of suffering associated with this recession,” says Heller professor Donald Shepard, principal author of the report. “All Americans bear a part of these costs, and all of us will benefit when this burden is reduced.”

The researchers identified three major costs that society bears due to rising rates of hunger and food insecurity. Illness of hungry Americans, the largest factor in the country’s hunger bill, accounts for $130.5 billion of the total. Poor educational outcomes due to hunger cost society $19.2 billion, the report says, while charitable donations of food, money, and volunteer time needed to support emergency food programs across the nation amount to $17.8 billion — without even taking into account federal funds for commodities and other emergency food support.

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