Oregon hunger rate among nation’s worst

November 17, 2008

SALEM, Ore. – The rate of hunger in the state of Oregon has increased again, making Oregon one of the hungriest states in the country.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported on Monday that the current hunger rate in Oregon is 5.5 percent, among the highest in the nation and comparable to Mississippi, Maine, South Carolina and Georgia.

"That translates into approximately 78,000 Oregon households that, at some point during the year, skipped meals, shrunk portions and worried about making it to the end of the month," said Mark Edwards, an Oregon State University sociologist and an expert in hunger issues.

Each year, the USDA measures hunger as "food insecurity" using an 18-item survey of thousands of U.S. households, asking adults about the decisions they made in the past year regarding putting food on the table for their families and themselves.

Oregon’s rates of food insecurity are similar to the national average, around 12 percent. However, among those food insecure households, Oregon has a larger proportion in the more extreme circumstances of very low food security, often referred to as “hunger.” The numbers reported on Monday are three-year averages, from 2005 through 2007.

"In 2007, the Oregon Food Bank saw its first significant increase in demand for food boxes in several years," Edwards said. "Several economic indicators show that the economy took a downturn in early 2007, which may have been especially hard on Oregon households.”

However, the 5.5 percent rate does not take into account the more serious economic downturn in 2008. "I anticipate that the percentage of those experiencing hunger will go up even more next year given what our economy has experienced in 2008," Edwards said.

In the late 1990s, Oregon had one of the highest rates of hunger among all 50 states. However, Edwards explained, in spite of the economic recession of the early 2000s, Oregon social service agencies and nonprofit groups helped lower the hunger rate to the national average of around 4 percent, in part through the successful enrollment of many eligible households in the food stamp program. However, the improvement has been reversed since the historic low of 3.8 percent around 2003.

Author: Peg Herring
Source: Mark Edwards, Bruce Weber