Hunger rate amid coronavirus will go higher than during Great Depression: Feeding America CEO

Long lines at food banks amid the coronavirus outbreak have reminded many of the breadlines that stretched along sidewalks across the U.S. during the Great Depression.

But the current hunger crisis will get even worse than what befell America in the 1930s, says Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, the CEO of Feeding America, one of the largest hunger relief organizations in the U.S.

“It appears that we’re actually going to see food insecurity rates as a result of this pandemic go even higher than they were in the last Great Depression, which at that time was unprecedented,” she tells Yahoo Finance’s Julie Hyman during a special All Markets Summit Extra: Road to Recovery.

Before the pandemic, roughly 37 million people in the U.S. lacked consistent, predictable access to the mix of food required for a healthy lifestyle — what experts refer to as food insecurity, Babineaux-Fontenot said.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing those numbers really rise,” she says. “So we’re anticipating that the rate of food insecurity will go up to about 54 million people, and that 20 million of the people who are facing food insecurity in this country will be kids.”

People wait on a long line to receive a food bank donation at the Barclays Center on May 15, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough in New York City. The event was organized by Food Bank for New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
People wait on a long line to receive a food bank donation at the Barclays Center on May 15, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough in New York City. The event was organized by Food Bank for New York City. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

“It’s quite a big challenge,” she adds.

According to initial data released earlier this month, 83{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of Feeding America’s food banks saw an increase in the number of people served relative to this time last year, with an average increase of 50{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed}, the organization told CNN.

Oxfam, an international anti-poverty organization, released a report on July 9 that found the hunger crisis across the globe could kill more people each day than coronavirus, predicting that about 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year.

Yahoo Finance holds a special "All Markets Summit Extra: Road to Recovery" from 5 to 6:30 pm on Tuesday.
Yahoo Finance holds a special “All Markets Summit Extra: Road to Recovery” from 5 to 6:30 pm on Tuesday.

Like the coronavirus, the hunger crisis disproportionately impacts people of color, Babineaux-Fontenot said, noting that African Americans make up about 12{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of the U.S. population but made up about 22{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of people who were food insecure before the pandemic. Similarly, the Latinx community makes up about 17{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of the U.S. population but constituted about 24{c33c21346ff5e26ab8e0ae3d29ae4367143f0d27c235e34c392ea37decdb8bed} of people who were food insecure prior to the outbreak, she said.

“We also know that this pandemic is inordinately impacting communities of color in that the primary source of employment for communities of color are right smack dab in the middle of those that are being impacted by this financial crisis,” she says.

Rural Americans are also undergoing heightened food insecurity, says Babineaux-Fontenot.

“What makes that particularly tragic is that that’s where food gets produced,” she says. “A lot of food gets produced in rural America and then gets shipped out of rural America.”

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