About five years ago, I asked members of my staff to spend a day in Dupont Circle conducting what we called “man on the street” interviews. They asked individuals of all ages a series of questions in order to help us better understand how those living in the District perceived hunger – and who suffered from it. The first and most important question on the list was, “What comes to mind when you think of the word ‘hunger’?” All the folks we interviewed gave similar answers. Here’s what most of them said:
“Third world countries.”
“Starving children overseas.”
Not one mentioned hunger in America, much less in the District of Columbia. Certainly no one uttered the word “seniors,” the cohort of the population that has been the focus of my work for over the past 20 years. Other people might have been frustrated by the results of this experiment, but I had the opposite reaction. It only reignited my zeal and my conviction that we must start the conversation about senior hunger, and all hunger, in communities across America. Only then can we begin to address this real, serious and growing problem and prevent it from occurring in the first place.
At our organization, the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, we strongly believe you cannot solve a problem unless you know the causes, consequences and prevalence of the problem itself. That’s why, in our work, we rely heavily on the original, independent senior hunger research we commission year after year. Our latest research study, The State of Senior Hunger in America 2011: An Annual Report, provides important findings that every one of us should know.
Best and Worst U.S. States for Senior Hunger
This recent report provides information on the percent of individuals age 60 and older in 2011 who faced the threat of hunger in each of the states and the District of Columbia). The nation’s capital ranked 36th of the 51, with 51 being “best.” The data reveal that 12.3 percent of seniors faced the threat of hunger in 2011 in comparison to 14.7 percent in 2010. That is a 17.5% decrease in senior hunger in the District over a year’s time; that is the good news that confirms my belief that the problem is solvable and progress can be made. The bad news is that nearly one in every eight seniors was still threatened by hunger in 2011.
Senior Hunger: 2001 – 2011
Overall findings show a substantial increase in the number of seniors facing the threat of hunger over the past decade (2001 -2011). In 2011, 8.8 million seniors nationally faced the threat of hunger, representing an 88% increase in the number of seniors affected since 2001 and a 42% increase since the start of the Great Recession in 2007. Put another way, 1 in 9 seniors faced the threat of hunger in 2001, while in 2011 nearly
1 in 6 seniors were affected. That is why I call these last ten years the “Decade of Shame.
Most Vulnerable Seniors
State of Senior Hunger also identifies those seniors who are most vulnerable, including baby boomers (i.e. the “young old”), grandparents living with grandchildren, women, non-whites (Hispanic and African American seniors) and those who are poor or near poor. In the District of Columbia, a city known for the diversity of its residents, all of these groups are present and many continue to struggle.
Take Action: A Senior Hunger-free DC
In honor of Hunger Action Month this September and the forgotten seniors facing hunger right here in the shadow of our nation’s capitol, as well as elsewhere across our country, I implore you – and anyone else in the District of Columbia who will listen – to stop this madness. Pledge with me to work tirelessly until we have eradicated this scourge. Senior hunger in America is alive and well, not because it is inevitable but because we have failed to make this issue one of national and local urgency. Let’s not settle for the 36th spot on this list, but instead fight for the day when there will be no list at all. Our seniors should not have to suffer another ten years of hunger. They should have the opportunity to live the rest of their lives with the dignity they deserve. The time of waiting on the federal government or corporate America or any other single entity to find the solution is over. We are all accountable and need to work together in this fight. Senior hunger is a problem, but as I’ve said, it’s solvable. And I will keep saying that until we’ve proved it so.