Each year, the traditional harvest-time dinner is taking on a different meaning for residents of Richmond County and North Carolina, as more and more find themselves unable to afford adequate food on a day-to-day basis.
The growing number of unemployed and working poor who can’t afford enough to eat was compiled in a recent study released by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The report found food insecurity, or the ability to provide enough food to feed a household, is at an all-time high in the United States, and North Carolina is tied for the fastest-growing rate of food insecurity in the nation.
“While many Americans are getting ready to feast this Thanksgiving, a record number of Americans face a literal famine,” N.C. Justice Center Policy Analyst Louisa Warren said in a Monday press release. “When more than a million children go to bed hungry in the U.S., we know it’s past time to act.”
The N.C. Justice Center also released a county-by-county snapshot of employment, poverty and median income in North Carolina this week, illustrating worsening economic conditions for the state as a whole and Richmond County, in particular.
The U.S.D.A. report found the national rate of food insecurity to be 12.2 percent across the nation in 2008, while it was 13.7 percent in North Carolina.
Furthermore, between 1996 and 2008, the report shows North Carolina’s rate of food insecurity grew 3.9 percent, tying the state with Maine and Missouri for the fastest growing populations of the underfed.
The data was collected in December 2008, meaning the reality is likely worse than these statistics show, according to the N.C. Justice Center.
In September 2008, there were more than 1,011,000 North Carolinians accepting Food and Nutrition Services, or food stamps. This September that number swelled to 1,249,226.
This is approximately a 25 percent increase in the total roll of those on food stamps.
In Richmond County, that number grew from 8,925 in September 2008 to 10,468 in September 2009.
Richmond County has more food stamp recipients than any of its neighboring counties, with Scotland County coming in second at 9,595.
During this same time period, unemployment in Richmond County grew from 10.1 percent to 13.3 percent.
The median household income is also lower in Richmond County than any of its neighbors at $29,505, while Scotland County’s median household income is $30,775.
Fortunately, the income needed to meet the N.C. standard of living is less in Richmond County than any of its neighbors, at $39,098 a year for a household of four, but this is still more than what Richmond County workers earn.
While the current economic recession accounts for some of this rise in poverty and hunger, figures dating back to 2000 show a steady decline in the quality of life for North Carolina’s workers, according the N.C. Justice Center.
“The rise in unemployment is definitely part of the reason for the increase, but this report also shows that more families experiencing food scarcity include at least one adult with a full-time job,” Warren commented. “This tells us that stagnant wages have devastated workers’ ability to put food on the table.”
A snapshot of employment in the state of North Carolina shows joblessness has more than doubled in the state since the year 2000.
In October 2000, North Carolina’s unemployment rate reached 4.2 percent, in October 2008 it grew to 7 percent. Unemployment in the state of North Carolina is currently 11 percent, and continues to grow month-by-month.
As of October 2008, there were more than 1.3 million North Carolinians living in poverty, according to census statistics, which reflects 14.6 percent of the state population.
In 2000, about 13 percent of North Carolinians lived in poverty.
The growth in poverty has hit North Carolina families particularly hard. The percentage of impoverished families has grown from 9.6 percent in 2000 to 10.9 percent in 2008.
This means more than one of every 10 North Carolina families is living below the rate of poverty.
n Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 32, or by e-mail at email@example.com.