NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Hunger Claims Wildly Exaggerated

March 17, 2004

Since 1987, the U.S. Conference of Mayors has released an annual report on hunger and homelessness in America. Over this period, the mayors have reported that food bank use, which is a proxy used to measure hunger, has grown at an average rate of 17 percent per year, roughly doubling every four years.

Researchers from the Heritage Foundation, however, say these claims of mass hunger are wildly exaggerated and only serve to distract from the real issues facing the nation. In their latest study, the researchers found that the mayors' results are not only implausible, but are also contradicted by other more reliable surveys. For instance:

  • The U.S. Census finds that there has been a slight decrease in the use of food pantries and soup kitchens from 1995 to 2001 as compared to a 150 percent increase claimed by the mayors' reports over that same period.
  • Second Harvest, the major supplier to food banks, reports that emergency food use has increased by 9 percent between 1997 and 2001 -- by contrast, the mayors' reports claim it has increased by nearly 100 percent.

One of the problems with the mayors' reports, says Heritage, is they do not report the number of persons using these services, but only the rate of increase as compared to the prior year. In addition, they fail to account for the 20 percent of emergency food providers that go out of business every year, thus leading to over-counting.

Source: Melissa G. Pardue, Robert E. Rector and Kirk A. Johnson, "Mayors' Claims of Growing Hunger Appear Wildly Exaggerated," Backgrounder No. 1711, Heritage Foundation, December 2003.


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