NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 14, 2004

Each year, the United States Conference of Mayors releases a report on hunger and homelessness in American cities, reports the John Locke Foundation's Carolina Journal. Since 1987, according to the yearly reports, the percentage of people using emergency food aid has increased about 17 percent per year -- in essence, doubling every four years.

However, when compared to other surveys, the numbers don't make sense. An analysis of surveys by the Heritage Foundation reveals:

  • Census data shows no increase between 1995 and 2001; however, the mayors' data shows that emergency food use has increased by 150 percent between 1995 and 2001
  • Detailed surveys by Second Harvest, the nation's major food bank supplier, shows that between 1997 and 2001, emergency food usage increased by only 9 percent, while the mayors' data shows an increase of 100 percent during that time period.
  • The mayors' data indicates that the number of people receiving emergency food aid is 12 times higher today than in 1986 -- if this were the case, the number of people receiving food aid in 1986 would stand at less than 2 million, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) statistics, which is only one-twelfth of the present number.
  • The U.S. Census reported that there has been a slight decrease in the use of food pantries and soup kitchens from 1995 to 2001.

According to observers, there are a few reasons why the mayors' reports seem to overstate the hunger problem. First, the mayors' data only requires city officials to report the change in demand for emergency food aid and city services -- that is, what percentage the demand has increased or decreased, or if it has stayed the same.

Second, while the surveys measure the increase in food delivery to local food banks, they do not take into account the percentage of food banks that close each year, which is about 20 percent.

According to the USDA, overall hunger has declined slightly since 1995, while hunger among children has declined substantially.

Sources: "Hunger Exaggerated," Carolina Journal, June 2004, John Locke Foundation; Melissa G. Pardue, et al., "Mayors' Claims of Growing Hunger Appear Wildly Exaggerated," Backgrounder 1711, December 15, 2003, Heritage Foundation.


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