Rising wages nationally don’t mean less hunger locally

BRAFB_Logo_NEWLast week, the Census Bureau announced that wages grew among middle and low-income Americans in 2015. But that hopeful news wasn’t reflected in lines at food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters across central and western Virginia. The Blue Ridge Area Food Bank reports that the number of visits to food providers in its 25-county service area didn’t budge in 2015 compared to 2014.

“The problem of hunger is a local one,” said Michael McKee, CEO of the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. “Some regions of the country are faring better than others. Financial instability continues to be the reality for many people in our service area.”  McKee added that in the first half of this year, the Food Bank saw only a 4% drop in pantry visits over the same period last year, and that at an average of 107,700 per month, the number of people seeking help is still tens of thousands higher than before the recession.

The reasons are myriad.

While the employment rate is improving, what is less apparent in those numbers is the fact that many low-income individuals are working multiple part-time jobs to try to cover all their expenses, often without benefits.

Older adults who weren’t able to save enough for retirement, or saw their investments lose money during the recession may find themselves unable to pay their bills.

The Census Bureau report revealed that medical costs continue to place a heavy financial burden on families as out-of-pocket- expenses grow, even for those with health insurance.

“I’ve heard the economic recovery compared to a very long, slow-moving train. Things are getting better for everyone. But low-income people are the caboose of the train, which means they will always get to the destination last,” McKee said.

What’s more, seniors make up the fastest growing demographic that will experience food insecurity. The number of food-insecure seniors is projected to rise by 50 percent when the youngest Baby Boomers turn age 60 in 2025.

Food insecure individuals —especially children and seniors — face a higher risk of experiencing physical ailments as well as diet-related chronic illnesses.

September is Hunger Action Month. During this month of mobilization, individuals in the community can get involved in many ways to help the Food Bank meet its mission to feed hungry families.

To learn more, please visit www.brafb.org. For interviews, please call Abena Foreman-Trice at 540-213-8405, or reach Michael McKee at 434-960-6519.

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