Poverty an ever-growing problem nationally and locally

Image of Pantry line at Arriba Juntos

Line at a pantry hosted by Arriba Juntos, a community-based organization the Mission District, San Francisco

No one needs to read the news to know that the state of the U.S. economy is not what it once was.

But just last week, the Census Bureau reported that 43.6 million people were living in poverty last year. In other words, 14.3% of the U.S. population lives on less than…wait for it…$22,050 per year for a family of four. Meanwhile, the unemployment rates in San Francisco and Marin are still substantial at 9.7% and 8.4%, respectively. We see the persistent effects of increasing poverty in our pantry lines. All in all, we served 200,000 people  in San Francisco and Marin in the past year.

Even though the news of the national economic turmoil should come as no surprise, it is actually the highest number since the Bureau started publishing such things back in 1959. For some perspective, that’s the year Alaska was admitted as the 49th U.S. state, i.e.,  a long time ago.

At the Food Bank, we have seen a steady increase in need at our pantries as more and more people are squeezed by reduced hours, longer-than-anticipated unemployment, and the inevitable pile-up of bills.

Meanwhile, it’s a tough time to get a job anywhere in the country:

Currently, there are nearly five workers actively searching for work for every job available, compared to just one and a half job searchers per job opening before the Great Recession began.” Read the full story at the Center for American Progress

And the prognosis is that the unemployment crisis is likely to continue even as the recession wanes:

Historical experience shows that unemployment and poverty rates keep rising after a recession ends. This was more apparent in the recessions of 1990 and 2001 than in those of 1973, 1980, and 1981. So poverty rates are likely to continue to rise in 2010, even though by some measures the economy and the job market are beginning to strengthen.” Read the full story at the Urban Institute

Because unemployment leads to poverty, and there is a prediction of continued unemployment, poverty will likely persist throughout 2010 and even increase in 2011:

“… Key forms of federal assistance — including additional weeks of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed and a temporary program that has created 250,000 mostly private-sector jobs for low-income parents and youth — are slated to expire by the end of this year.”  Read the full story at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

In order to bridge the gap, the San Francisco Food Bank is doing everything possible to meet the unrelenting need for food assistance. We’re opening more grocery pantries in partnership with hundreds of local nonprofits. We’re offering benefits outreach, nutrition education, senior food boxes, school snack programs.  And we’re fighting for better school lunches and legislation.

We strive to provide not just any type of food but fresh and nutritious food. Pundits may be declaring the recession over, but unemployment is still high and is forecasted to keep climbing. With money at its tightest, the Food Bank is working to provide the highest quality foods to our neighbors in need.

To learn more about our programs please visit our website.

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