This article by our founder and president, Dave Phillips, first appeared in USA Today’s Childhood Wellness campaign.
Once upon a time, hunger in America was primarily in the slums and ghettos of our cities. While it is still there and needs continued response, hungry children have also now appeared in what is a surprising location – our suburbs.
While urban poverty grew 29 percent from 2000 to 2011, in that same period, suburban poverty grew 65 percent. Today, more poor people live in suburbs than in cities.
Named the “invisible poor,” families who struggle with food scarcity tend to hide their condition from family, friends and neighbors. They may look good on the outside but, inside, their homes are in disrepair and their mortgages in distress. Apartment dwellers plead and cajole landlords to let them go one more month, paying no or reduced rent. Even with health insurance, medicine costs too much and parents must choose between medicine and food for the family. They struggle — and they struggle in silence.
The suburban poor are not malnourished, but they are undernourished. The families often eat off the dollar menu of fast food restaurants, because it can be cheaper than cash flowing a trip to the grocery store.
Parents working multiple jobs with staggered schedules find cheap and easy meals to be their solution. Yet they are eating empty calories, often creating obesity and its complications, including Type 2 diabetes.
In America, being poor is shameful. In order for individuals and groups to begin to meet the unique needs of the suburban poor, we must collectively first change our minds about those who are in need. We should acknowledge that any of us can experience financial reversal and that we are dependent on many economic factors outside our control. Just working hard will not always mean financial security.
Secondly, let’s open our eyes and get to know our neighbors and be willing to connect them to others who might help. We probably can’t bail them out, but we can listen and encourage them. We can share our own meals with them. We can be a good neighbor. Let’s commit to having the invisible poor to be no longer invisible. It’s time to talk about suburban poverty.