Study: U.S. hunger costs $167.5 billion a year

Education, economy, health care all burdened

Published: Thursday, Oct. 20 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

Hunger in America costs the country more than just the price of welfare, say researchers at Brandeis University and the Center for American Progress.

The social and economic price of hunger totaled up to $167.5 billion in 2010, according to the report "Hunger in America, Suffering We All Pay For."

Researchers calculated the cost by taking into account hunger's effects on educational outcomes, lost economic productivity, avoidable heath care costs and the cost of charity. The bill does not include the cost of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program) and other federal nutrition programs, which ring in at about $94 billion a year.

The number of American households who didn't have enough food to eat increased by 30 percent between 2007 and 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since the recession began, 12 million more people have come face to face with hunger.

"This increase in food insecurity and America's hunger bill over these three years demonstrates the breadth of suffering associated with this recession," said Donald Shepard, a professor at the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy at Brandeis University, in a news release. "All Americans bear a part of these costs, and all of us will benefit when this burden is reduced."

Hunger leads to more illness which, in turn, puts a demand on the health care system, the report argued. The health care costs of hunger rang in at $130.5 billion.

Hungry children also perform more poorly academically than their well-fed peers. The report tallies the money spent helping them to catch up — $19.2 billion.

"Specifically, this report finds that $6.4 billion in special education costs could be avoided by making sure no child was hungry or food insecure," said Elizabeth Setren, assistant economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and coauthor of the report.

The report estimates Americans privately spent $17.8 billion in donations of food, money and volunteer time to support emergency food programs across the nation.

"Every American has a real stake in driving down the numbers of hungry and food-insecure Americans," said Donna Cooper, senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. "Hunger may not be obvious in America but this less-visible consequence of rising unemployment, flat wages and growing poverty is becoming a real cost for every American household."

The report echoes the findings of a 2007 report by the Center for American Progress, which argued that childhood poverty in America costs the country $500 billion annually.

EMAIL: estuart@desnews.com

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