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In a 12-month period in 2016-17, more than one of every four Mississippi households with children — 25.8 percent — lacked enough money to buy the food they needed, according to a new report by the Food Research & Action Center. That rate is the highest of any state in the nation, and over 7 percentage points higher than the 2017 national average.
At 19.7 percent, Mississippi’s food hardship rate for households without children is the second highest in the nation; only Louisiana, at 19.8 percent, has a higher rate.
The Jackson metropolitan area ranked fourth out of 108 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, with more than 21 percent of households reporting an inability to afford enough food. That rate is nearly the same as the 20.8 percent of people who live in poverty state-wide.
Research shows that when children lack access to food, they are more likely to have poor health, lag developmentally, exhibit negative behavior, and suffer anxiety or depression. These negative effects can, in turn, lead to poor academic performance.
Mississippi’s overall food shortage rate has dropped since 2008 when it hit a high of over 27 percent for all households. Nationwide, the rate of food hardship has dropped from nearly 18 percent in 2008 to just over 15 percent in 2016. The southeast and southwest regions experienced the highest rates of food shortage between 2008 and 2017.
Mississippi not only has the nation’s highest food hardship rate, it also struggles to provide summer and afterschool meals to kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch during the school year.
To improve access to food, the authors of the food hardship report say more jobs and higher wages are essential, as well as improved government income-support programs for struggling families. The authors encourage states, local governments and nonprofits to collaborate to enroll more families in federal nutrition programs.