Children and seniors are particularly vulnerable to the economic challenges facing families today.
Each year, Feeding America does an annual report on hunger in America. They use "food insecurity" as their benchmark for the report.
Food insecurity means “without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food”.
This year’s report (2016) had sobering news for Merced County’s children.
Overall, Merced County’s food insecurity rate was 15.5% - significantly higher than the state average of 13.9%.
However, the food insecurity rate for those 18 and under was a staggering 28.9%. Which means, of our 80,126 children 18 and under, 23,190 of them have no reliable access to sufficient food.
Those grim statistics are a result of the fact that our communities experience some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the state.
Merced County is often referred to as the epicenter of poverty and poverty related issues, not only in California, but the nation. The most recent census data reports that 25.1% of County residents and 35% of Merced city residents live in poverty. Merced County’s unemployment rate was 10.2% in June 2016, nearly double California’s rate of 6.2% and significantly higher than the national average of 4.7%.
The statistics get worse when you look at children ages 18 and under; with over 35% of them living in poverty. In the school year 2014-2015, 79.6% of enrolled students in school qualified for free or reduced lunch prices.
The per capita income for Merced County is 56th of 58 California counties and 22.1% of the county residents rely on food stamps to make ends meet.
In Merced County, more than 95,000 children and adults live in communities where a healthy diet is simply out of reach.
Despite producing some of the healthiest foods on the planet, many of our county’s residents either can’t afford them or live in food deserts and can’t access them. Lack of access to nutritious, affordable foods, is a major contributor to obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases in our community.
This epidemic threatens to make today’s children the first generation in history with a shorter lifespan than their parents.