Original article published in the Jewish Exponent on December 28, 2011
Opinion: Growing Income Disparity Also Equals Growth in Hunger
by Ruth S. Laibson
I am usually proud to call Philadelphia my home. But a recent study that highlights our city’s increasing income segregation contains some very disquieting facts that should challenge all of us to action.
The study, conducted by Stanford University, demonstrated dramatic growth in income segregation in the United States over the last four decades. Since 1970, both the poorest and the most affluent neighborhoods have more than doubled in size, while middle-income neighborhoods have shrunk by nearly one-third.
At a time when the disparity between the “haves” and “have-nots” is growing, the middle class is disappearing. Alarmingly, our city, which in 1970 was the 43rd most income-segregated metropolitan area in the country, has risen to third place. Even more disturbing, Philadelphia and its suburbs registered the sharpest rise in this segregation of any metropolitan area.
As the study notes: “The increasing concentration of income and wealth (and therefore of resources such as schools, parks and public services) in a small number of neighborhoods results in greater disadvantages for the remaining neighborhoods where low- and middle-income families live.”
The challenges abound. Children have fewer educational opportunities or neighborhood support services; adults facing economic hardship are far too often forced to make painful choices about how to stretch their limited dollars to cover even the basic necessities — shelter, medical care, food.
As a board member of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, one of the nation’s foremost food justice organizations, I am keenly aware of the shocking statistics about the prevalence of hunger in America. Fifty million Americans — including 17 million children — are too often unsure if or when they will have their next meal.
Nearly one in four U.S. households with children couldn’t afford enough food for themselves and their families in 2010. For households without children, 49 of 50 states reported food hardship rates higher than 10 percent in 2009-2010. In Philadelphia, one in four people struggles to put food on the table.
Charitable organizations, including MAZON’s nationwide partners on the front lines, are already doing their best to bear a heavy burden. How much more can we realistically expect them to shoulder?
Our elected officials are in the position to help alleviate this shameful situation. But with the current focus on reducing federal and state deficits, programs like SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps), that have proven instrumental in reducing hunger and promoting better nutrition for families in need, are at risk of being severely cut back.
It is not too late to change this paradigm. We must band together to help those struggling for food and slipping into a lifetime of poverty and despair. We must urge our elected officials not to balance the budget on the backs of the least fortunate among us.
No one can predict with certainty where the economy is headed, but it seems clear that things are not going to improve quickly. We cannot allow our continued hard times to justify the destruction of the lives and hopes of millions of American families.
Ruth S. Laibson, a resident of Haverford, is a board member of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.