Hungry in a Wealthy Nation


By Haider Rizvi

Inter Press Service
March 26, 2003

While the U.S. government spends billions of dollars to wage war against Iraq, some 30 million people in the United States go hungry, 12 million of whom are children, says Anuradha Mittal, co-director of the California-based Institute for Food and Development Policy (IFDP).

An estimated 33 million U.S. residents live below the poverty line, according to the most recent Census Bureau figures, which identify children, single mothers, and the elderly as most likely to face hunger. The U.S. poverty rate was 11.7 percent in 2001, up from 11.3 percent in the year before, with rates nearly double that among Latinos and blacks, the two ethnic minorities suffering most from hunger and poverty, given their share in the US population.

The administration of George W. Bush aims to spend up to 400 billion dollars this year on defense, while allocating only 16 billion dollars to welfare, says Mittal, who has spent years researching global food distribution systems. "This is not just a war on Iraq. This is a war on the poor people in America," according to the expert for the IFDP, an independent think-tank that advocates environmentally sustainable and socially just food system in the world.

"They want to fund this war from cuts in domestic funding on health and children's education," adds Mittal.

"The United States has fallen short of commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human rights," she says. "The right to food, clothing, shelter, education, health, and employment are fundamental to survival, poverty, sickness, and illiteracy undermine human dignity as effectively as military dictatorships." The activist points out that the U.S. Senate has not yet ratified the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights approved by the United Nations in 1966 and signed by the government of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981).

The Latino and black populations in the United States, the largest minorities with 37 and 36 million people, respectively, continue suffer from economic hardships as a result of the education factor, say authors of a recent study, "Falling Behind or Moving Up," sponsored by the Public Policy Institute of California.

"Slow economic progress by Mexican Americans is a serious public policy concern," says Jeffrey Grogger, co-author of the study, who teaches public policy at the University of California. "Finding a way to eliminate this disadvantage would go a long way toward bringing Mexican-Americans into the economic mainstream." According to the Census Bureau, 37 percent of households led by Latino women - mostly Mexican - remain below the poverty line.

Between 1991 and 1998, more than seven million immigrants entered the United States. Of those, about three million came from Latin America. According to the Immigration and Naturalisation Services (INS), Mexico is the single largest sender of the immigrants to the United States.

"I have been cleaning houses for the past 15 years," says Isabel, a mother of two in her late 50s. "I want to go back to the Dominican Republic, but I can't. I need more money. The money is here." Isabel and her children have no health care insurance, just like about 40 million other people in the United States, most of whom are minorities and find themselves working for minimum wage.

In a city like New York, where the immigrant population is enormous, Isabel is not alone in suffering economic hardship. There are perhaps tens of thousands of unemployed people, some of whom are living on the streets and are not even counted by the Census Bureau.

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican and a billionaire, wants the city to "do more with less" and reduced the number of summer jobs for working class youth from 36,000 last year to 5,600 this year.

"Hunger leads to lost knowledge, brainpower, and productivity for our nation today and in the future," says the Institute for Food Policy in a recent statement. "Hunger affects not only the poor children and their families, it threatens the future of the U.S."

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