East Boston based Project Bread has released numbers from its annual Status Report on Hunger in Massachusetts 2011.
Each year Project Bread, the state’s leading anti-hunger organization conducts and in dept study of how resident in Eastie and across the state are struggling to keep food on their tables.
Compared to last year’s report where Project Bread found that 660,000 people in the state are struggling to make ends meet, this year’s study added 40,000 people to the list of those in dire need for food assistance.
The disturbing increase marks the highest rate recorded in Massachusetts since this data was first collected by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1995.
The report and the 700,000 found to be in need of help demonstrates that the state suffers from a dramatic and increasing income gap.
According to the report, over the last ten years, the number of high-paying technology jobs has increased in the Commonwealth, while the number of manufacturing jobs has dwindled, leaving Massachusetts with one of the greatest income gaps in the nation.
The report found that from 1979 to 2008 (the latest year for which data are available), the median income of the poorest families went from $22,452 to $22,688. During this same period, the median income for the most affluent families increased 43 percent, from $136,099 to $194,899.
“The concentration of wealth and poverty in towns as different as Duxbury and Holyoke creates a very different day-to-day experience for residents,” said Project Bread’s Executive Director Ellen Parker. “Even the state’s averaged numbers distort the painful reality faced by families who live in areas of concentrated poverty.”
With 10.8 percent of Massachusetts families identified as food insecure, the report. Like last year, the report notes that many families who were once considered “middle-class” are now struggling to make ends meet.
Last year’s report for the first time shockingly revealed that food insecurity had found its way into middle class suburbs and has driven low-income people further into crisis.
The report blamed unemployment, lost savings, and foreclosures that became all too familiar to families who once felt securely middle class were facing hunger for the first time in their lives.
The report’s more disturbing findings according to Parker are the isolation of families in areas of concentrated poverty.
“Low-income communities have fewer food resources,” explained Parker. “They tend to live in food deserts, which means that they do not have grocery stores nearby but have to rely on expensive convenience stores for each week’s groceries. They have fewer farmers’ markets. Their schools have a more difficult time providing healthy, tasty food with fresh produce for kids, and their emergency food programs are either nonexistent or overwhelmed by the demand.”
Because areas of concentrated poverty also suffer from fewer community resources to help in an economic downturn, the report argues that hunger solutions should not only help the hungry person but also the community.
“Creating win-win hunger relief programs such as community gardens, food co-ops, market-based solutions, which engage local grocers, and community dinners with nutrition education, while also utilizing existing federal programs, including SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), school nutrition programs, and summer food programs will help families remain healthy and nourish the community at the same time,” said Parker.