Texas had high­est ‘food in­se­cure’ rate for kids in 2005-07

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - Carol Mor­gan By Ciara O’Rourke

Carol Mor­gan, the Demo­crat fac­ing Repub­li­can John Frullo for a Texas House seat rep­re­sent­ing Lub­bock, says Texas of­ten beats out other states, not al­ways for the bet­ter.

“We’re a state of con­trasts right now,” she told the Non-Ur­ban Cau­cus on June 25 at the Texas Demo­cratic Party’s state con­ven­tion. “We are (rated) No. 1 in busi­ness by ev­ery busi­ness mag­a­zine, and I (am) stead­fastly com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing that. But you know, we’re No. 1 in child hunger.”

How Texas ranks, in cat­e­gories great and oth­er­wise, is of­ten cam­paign fuel. We’ve noted pre­vi­ously that Texas is No. 1 in wind power, and among the low­est-rank­ing states for high school grad­u­a­tion rates and mental health care. Texas has the nation’s top share of min­i­mum-wage work­ers and is also home to the most For­tune 500 com­pa­nies.

Scop­ing Mor­gan’s state­ment, we came across a Repub­li­can ren­di­tion of the same con­cern. Texas Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Todd Sta­ples, urg­ing may­ors to par­tic­i­pate in a sum­mer pro­gram pro­vid­ing meals to needy chil­dren, said in June 2009: “Texas ranks first in the nation in chil­dren who are food in­se­cure.”

Ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, “food in­se­cu­rity” means that at some point in a year, some­one in a house­hold went hun­gry be­cause the house­hold couldn’t af­ford food. JC Dwyer, state pol­icy di­rec­tor for the

Con­tin­ued from B Texas Food Bank Net­work, told us: “It doesn’t mean ev­ery­one’s go­ing hun­gry ev­ery night. It doesn’t mean ‘starv­ing.’”

Mor­gan sent us a write-up on the web­site of KXAS, the NBC TV af­fil­i­ate in Dal­lasFort Worth, that says “Texas leads the nation in child hunger.” She also pointed us to the Texas Hunger Ini­tia­tive web­site, which says “Texas has the high­est food in­se­cu­rity rate among chil­dren in the nation.” The ini­tia­tive, based at Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity, de­vel­ops strate­gies to end hunger across the state.

Nei­ther of Mor­gan’s cited web­sites ex­plains what it means to be No. 1 in child hunger.

Dwyer pointed us to data on food in­se­cu­rity col­lected by the fed­eral govern­ment. Ev­ery year since 1995, the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau’s Cur­rent Pop­u­la­tion Sur­vey has col­lected data on food in­se­cu­rity that the USDA uses to pro­duce a re­port on its preva­lence.

The bureau es­ti­mates the rate of food in­se­cu­rity in house­holds by weigh­ing re­sponses to 18 ques­tions, in­clud­ing yes-no queries such as, “In the last 12 months, did you or other adults in your house­hold ever not eat for a whole day be­cause there wasn’t enough money for food?” Other ques­tions re­quire par­tic­i­pants to say how true a state­ment is, such as, “The chil­dren were not eat­ing enough be­cause we just couldn’t af­ford enough food.”

About 44,000 house­holds an­swered the 2008 sur­vey. The USDA Eco­nomic Re­search Ser­vice, which an­a­lyzes the re­sponses and weights them ap­pro­pri­ately to reach con­clu­sions for each state and the nation, con­clud­ing that at some time that year 17.1 mil­lion — 14.6 per­cent — of U.S. house­holds were food in­se­cure. About 49 mil­lion peo­ple lived in food-in­se­cure house­holds, in­clud­ing 16.7 mil­lion chil­dren.

Look­ing at com­bined cen­sus data from 2006 to 2008, the USDA re­ported in Novem­ber that the es­ti­mated rate of food in­se­cu­rity ranged from 6.9 per­cent in North Dakota to 17.4 per­cent in Mis­sis­sippi. Texas had the sec­ond-high­est rate at 16.3 per­cent.

But what about fo­cus­ing on hun­gry chil­dren, as Mor­gan does?

An ear­lier USDA re­port fo­cused on food-in­se­cure house­holds where chil­dren were liv­ing. Look­ing at data from 2001 to 2007, the re­port found that 21.5 per­cent of Texas house­holds with chil­dren sus­tained food in­se­cu­rity — plac­ing the state first na­tion­ally. Neigh­bor­ing New Mex­ico had the next most food-in­se­cure house­holds with chil­dren, at 21 per­cent, while New Hamp­shire had the low­est rate, with 10.1 per­cent of house­holds with chil­dren fac­ing hunger.

In May 2009, Feed­ing Amer­ica, a non­profit na­tional net­work of more than 200 food banks, had ex­plored a re­lated an­gle. The net­work, tap­ping data from the Cen­sus Bureau and USDA for 2005 through 2007, es­ti­mated the share of chil­dren fac­ing hunger in each state. Its con­clu­sion: 22.1 per­cent of Texas chil­dren lived in food-in­se­cure house­holds. The Texas rate was fol­lowed by that of Ten­nessee (20.5 per­cent), South Carolina and Ari­zona (20.2), and Mis­souri and Louisiana (20).

The low­est rate? North Dakota at 10.9 per­cent.

Texas did not have the great­est num­ber of chil­dren fac­ing hunger. Cal­i­for­nia, the most pop­u­lous state, had about 1.6 mil­lion food-in­se­cure chil­dren. Texas had the sec­ond most with about 1.47 mil­lion.

Since Mor­gan made her child-hunger claim, Feed­ing Amer­ica has re­leased a new study us­ing Cen­sus Bureau and USDA data from 2006 to 2008. It found that Arkansas had the nation’s high­est rate of chil­dren fac­ing hunger, at 24.4 per­cent. Texas was a close sec­ond, with 24.3 per­cent of its chil­dren in food-in­se­cure house­holds. Vir­ginia had the small­est pro­por­tion of food­in­se­cure chil­dren.

In this lat­est re­port, Cal­i­for­nia had the great­est num­ber of food-in­se­cure chil­dren, about 1.75 mil­lion, fol­lowed by Texas (1.63 mil­lion). Arkansas had 166,371, while the to­tal av­er­age num­ber of food-in­se­cure chil­dren in the U.S. came to 13.9 mil­lion.

Our sense: It’s more rea­son­able to stack up the states based on their rates of chil­dren in hunger, rather than raw num­bers.

Based on its rate, Texas was No. 1 in child hunger from 2005 to 2007. It placed a close sec­ond to Arkansas in the lat­est Feed­ing Amer­ica study, cov­er­ing 2006 to 2008 — and that study wasn’t yet pub­lic when Mor­gan made her state­ment.

Her con­ven­tion claim is True.

The state­ment: ‘We’re No. 1 in child hunger.’

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