Most indicators show that poverty has increased in the United States during the last year. Unemployment and underemployment are unabated in parts of the country. There are more people with no health care coverage. Eligibility for food stamps has risen. But, one compilation of data is missing. It measures hunger in the population. Though the 2003 report has been completed and was to have been made public this week, it hasn’t been. Some people believe the report is being suppressed because it would reveal the Bush administration has failed the most vulnerable Americans right before the election.
The Associated Press reports.
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Kerry campaign on Friday criticized the administration for putting off, possibly until after the election, issuing an annual report that could show an increase in the number of households that either don’t have access to enough food or have experienced hunger.
The Agriculture Department report, originally scheduled to be made public either Thursday or Friday, is being reviewed by the department. No new date has been set for its release.
The food security report, compiled by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, is based on a survey of some 50,000 households conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and generally comes out about a month after the Census Bureau reports on poverty in the country.
The Census Bureau said in August that the ranks of the uninsured and the impoverished grew in 2003 for the third consecutive year, with the number living in poverty rising 1.3 million to 35.8 million.
A rise in people living below the poverty line usually translates into a rise in those who experience either food insecurity – meaning they don’t have access to enough food for healthy living at all times – or actual hunger.
Over eleven percent of households lacked sufficient food in 2002, up from over ten percent in 2001. An estimated 12 million American children knew hunger that year. The trend likely continued. The Bush administration says it needs to take a second look at “definitions’ in the report. That may mean there will be an effort to reduce the number of households counted as lacking enough food by redefining some of the terminology. That famously occurred during the Reagan administration. It attempted to redefine ketchup as a vegetable to bolster a claim school lunches for poor children were more nutritious than they were.
The Kerry campaign has countered that a sudden need to revise definitions is just a pretext for withholding the hunger report until after the election.
Kerry spokesman Phil Singer said the delay, coming just days before the election, was an example of the Bush administration withholding bad news from the American people. “It is absolutely unacceptable for the government to hold back information like this from the public,” Singer said.
Americans who care about whether their fellow citizens go hungry (some don’t) know that despite the rhetoric of ‘compassionate conservatism,’ the poor and working-class have seen their already meager resources dwindle during the Bush years. The suppression of the report on hunger makes additional information that definitely provides food for thought unavailable to voters before they go to the polls.
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