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NYC Children Are Hit Hardest by 2008 Financial Crisis

Food Poverty Among NYC Children Has Been Escalating At An Alarming Rate — A Trend Expected to Deepen & Spread Unless Measures Are Implemented to Prevent It From Ballooning Out of Control

Food Bank For New York City to Release Report Child Hunger: The Unhealthy Return On Missed Investments

New York, NY…Tuesday, October 7, 2008 — The children of New York City are among the hardest hit by the 2008 financial crisis. While food poverty among New York City children has been escalating for years, the 2008 financial crises will deepen and spread child food poverty even further unless measures are implemented to address the problem. These are the findings of Child Hunger:  The Unhealthy Return On Missed Investments, a report released at a press conference today by the Food Bank For New York City at its 17th Annual Agency Conference, a day-long event that brings together more than 500 members of the city’s hunger-relief community to discuss solutions for ending hunger. Today’s conference was held at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel in mid-town Manhattan. 

More than one out of every four New York City children lives below the poverty level, and more than one in five relies on a soup kitchen or food pantry for food. Insufficient incomes, rising prices and lack of access to nutritious food all contribute to food poverty. As a result, NYC children suffer the consequences including poor health, increasing rates of diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes and low academic achievement.

Speaking at the press conference was Dr. Lucy Cabrera, President and CEO, Food Bank For New York City; Ainé Duggan, Food Bank Vice President of Research, Policy & Education; Councilman Eric Gioia; Rev. Melony Samuels, Executive Director, BedStuy Campaign Against Hunger and Bishop Mitchell Taylor, President, East River Development Alliance; and representing Center of Hope International Bread of Life Food Pantry. Today’s keynote address was delivered by Michelle Paige Paterson, First Lady of New York State.

“Allowing more children to slip into poverty is not an option,” said Dr. Lucy Cabrera, President and CEO of the Food Bank For New York City. “The wisest investment we can make today is a commitment to “bail-out” our city’s children by stamping out child hunger and food poverty.  To address existing child food poverty and to prevent further hardships, we recommend a range of measures, from improving existing government nutrition assistance programs to meet immediate needs, to confronting the factors that create and sustain food poverty in the long term.”

"Hungry children do not learn as well, do not grow as well and live shorter and less healthy lives," said Councilman Eric Gioia. "If we do not fix the problems of hunger, poor nutrition and obesity immediately, they will remain a persistent and severe problem that will have long term consequences for New York. Eradicating hunger is a moral issue that should be a priority for every public official in New York City. "

According to report findings, even in the best of circumstances, children and the households in which they live are disproportionately impacted by poverty. While 19 percent of the NYC population lives below the poverty level, more than one-quarter (27 percent) of children live in poverty in New York City.

Additional top line findings conclude that:

Insufficient income and savings are a causal factor of food poverty among children.

  • The annual gross earnings for a minimum wage full-time worker in NYC (currently$7.15 and scheduled to increase to $7.25 in July 2009) is only $14,872, well below the federal poverty level for a family of three (approximately $17,000 annually).
  • Families that are struggling to get by on insufficient incomes are unlikely to have savings to fall back on in the event of layoffs and/or escalating living costs: more than one out of every five (22 percent) NYC households with children would not be able to afford needed food immediately after the loss of their household income.

Even before the 2008 financial crisis hit, the escalating cost of living was particularly hard on households with children in New York City.

  • From 2003 to 2007 basic living costs in the metro area increased as follows: food at home by 15 percent, fuel and utility by 37 percent, housing by 18 percent, medical care by 17 percent and transportation by 14 percent.
  • During the same time period there was a 41 percent increase, from almost one-third (32 percent) to almost one-half (45 percent), of New York City households with children experiencing difficulty affording needed food.

The 2008 financial crisis threatens to increase food poverty among children.  The cost of living has continued to escalate over the past year.

  • From January to August 2008 food at home has increased by 5 percent, fuel and utilities rose by 19 percent, transportation by 8 percent and housing by 5 percent.
  • Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) analysis of the impact of rising living costs shows that, adjusted for inflation, the city’s median wage fell by 4 percent from June 2007 to June 2008.

A broad range of economists, fiscal policy analysts and government officials agree that the impact of the nation’s fiscal crisis is only beginning to unfold.

  • According to New York Governor David Paterson the New York finance and insurance sectors have lost approximately 11,000 jobs between July 2007 and July 2008 and this number is expected to grow. In total, an estimated 120,000 jobs may be lost as direct and indirect results of the economic crisis in New York City.
  • New York State Department of Labor employment data shows that during the summer of 2008, there was a 25 percent increase, over the previous year, in the number of New York City workers filing for unemployment insurance.

Government nutrition programs are not sufficiently addressing the need among children.
Measures to calculate and address need neither provide a realistic representation of how many New York City families are struggling to make ends meet, nor equip families with adequate resources to afford basic food.

  • There is broad agreement that the federal poverty measure, which fails to account for realistic living costs, such as housing, is antiquated (federal poverty is used to set eligibility criteria for federal assistance programs) and the current levels for nutrition assistance programs do not reflect the cost of living today. As a result, programs often do not bridge the gap between rising food costs and low wages. Among households with children accessing New York City emergency food organizations, almost one-half (46 percent) are enrolled in food stamps and 82 percent run out of the monthly benefit in three weeks or less.

The increasing number of households with children falling into food poverty is most evident at the city’s approximately 1,000 emergency food organizations.
In recent times, the safety net of (Emergency Food Programs (EFPs) has not been sufficiently reinforced to meet increased demand, and the city’s children are among those falling through.

  • As of 2007 more than one out of every five children (397,000) in New York City is relying on soup kitchens and food pantries, up 48 percent from 269,000 in 2004. Notably, children account for 43 percent of the overall increase in city residents, from one million to 1.3 million, relying on emergency food during this time period.

Even as more families have turned to soup kitchens and food pantries for help, support and funding for emergency food has decreased. Subsequently, the number of families being turned away at emergency food organizations is rising. 

  • In 2007 almost one-half (47 percent) of agencies were forced to turn people away — anecdotal evidence (reports from front-line workers at EFPs) indicates that this problem has grown in 2008.

Food poverty has health and educational implications for children.
Poverty and lack of access to nutritious food has been shown to result in poor health and low academic achievement among children.

  • Food-poor children are 90 percent more likely to have fair/poor health than excellent/good health.
  • In New York City, more than one-half (53 percent) of elementary school children are overweight or obese. Inconsistent access to nutritious food has been shown to be a main cause of the epidemic of overweight children among those living below the poverty level. In response to inconsistent access to food, children tend to consume calorie-dense food when it is available, often leading to obesity.
  • Poverty is also linked to high asthma and diabetes rates in New York City. For example, approximately one out of every ten (10 percent) New York City children has asthma, higher than the 7 percent throughout New York State.
  • Food-poor children are more likely to have lower achievement in math and reading, more likely to repeat a grade, have behavioral problems and have higher rates of tardiness and absenteeism.
  • Hunger not only jeopardizes children’s education, but also their future workforce participation; children starting out at a disadvantage are more likely to remain at a disadvantage into adulthood.

Measures are needed now to address the existing problem and prevent child hunger and food poverty from ballooning out of control.
Current government nutrition assistance programs provide a strong foundation on which there is ample room for city, state and federal governments to construct an iron-clad safety net. Specific measures needed include:

  • Public funding to maximize participation in government nutrition assistance programs by increasing outreach and benefit levels.
  • Realistic eligibility criteria and streamlining, simplifying and improving coordination between nutrition assistance programs.
  • Funding for initiatives to increase the amount of fresh, nutritious food available in low-income communities.
  • Increased nutrition education and fitness programs for youth to exercise healthy choices.
  • Support for the unique role of emergency food organizations as resources for low-income families.

Eradicating food poverty in New York City requires long-term measures that tackle the underlying causes, from addressing the city’s lack of affordable housing to the creation of a living wage with healthcare benefits. In the near term, the dual goal of addressing existing food poverty among New York City children and preventing further hardship should undoubtedly be a priority, especially as measures to contain the impact of the financial crisis are implemented.

About the Food Bank For New York City:
Food Bank For New York City recognized 25 years as the city’s major provider of food to New Yorkers in nee. The organizations works to end food poverty and increase access to affordable, nutritious food for low-income New Yorkers through a range of programs and services that focus on food sourcing and distribution, education and nutrition, financial empowerment, disaster relief, policy and research.

Food Bank For New York City sources and then distributes food to more than 1,000 emergency and community food programs, assisting the approximately 1.3 million New Yorkers who access emergency food. The organization provides food safety, networking and capacity-building workshops, manages nutrition education programs for schools, after-school and emergency food programs; operates food stamp outreach and education programs; operates senior programs, a soup kitchen, and food pantry; coordinates the largest civilian Free Tax Assistance Program in the country; and develops policy and conducts research to inform community and government efforts to end food poverty throughout New York City.

For every dollar donated to the Food Bank, 96 cents goes toward food acquisition, distribution and programs.  For additional information, visit

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