Some statistics on poverty & food wastage in America

A box full of recovered vegetables and fruits dug out of the waste of a hypermarket

Poverty in America? One of the richest countries in the world?

Yes, poverty is a reality in America, just as it is for millions of other human beings on the planet. According to the US Census Bureau, 35.9 million people live below the poverty line in America, including 12.9 million children.

This is despite abundance of food resources. Almost 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in America each year. 700 million hungry human beings in different parts of the world would have gladly accepted this food.

Here are some statistics on the nature of poverty and the waste of food and money in America.

-In 2004, requests for emergency food assistance increased by an average of 14 percent during the year, according to a 27-city study by the United States Conference of Mayors.

-Also in this study, it was noted that on average, 20 percent of requests for emergency food assistance have gone unmet in 2004.

-According to the Bread for the World Institute 3.5 percent of U.S. households experience hunger. Some people in these households frequently skip meals or eat too little, sometimes going without food for a whole day. 9.6 million people, including 3 million children, live in these homes.

-America's Second Harvest (, the nation's largest network of food banks, reports that 23.3 million people turned to the agencies they serve in 2001, an increase of over 2 million since 1997. Forty percent were from working families.

33 million Americans continue to live in households that did not have an adequate supply of food. Nearly one-third of these households contain adults or children who went hungry at some point in 2000.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, March 2002, "Household Food Security in the United States, 2000"

Wasted food in America

-According to America’s Second Harvest, over 41 billion pounds of food have been wasted this year.

-According to a 2004 study from the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson, on average, American households waste 14 percent of their food purchases.

Fifteen percent of that includes products still within their expiration date but never opened. Timothy Jones, an anthropologist at the UA Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology who led the study, estimates an average family of four currently tosses out $590 per year, just in meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products.

Nationwide, Jones says, household food waste alone adds up to $43 billion, making it a serious economic problem.

- Official surveys indicate that every year more than 350 billion pounds of edible food is available for human consumption in the United States. Of that total, nearly 100 billion pounds - including fresh vegetables, fruits, milk, and grain products - are lost to waste by retailers, restaurants, and consumers.

-“U.S.-Massive Food Waste & Hunger Side by Side” by Haider Rizvi

-According to a 1997 study by US Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service (ERS) entitled "Estimating and Addressing America's Food Losses", about 96 billion pounds of food, or more than a quarter of the 356 billion pounds of edible food available for human consumption in the United States, was lost to human use by food retailers, consumers, and foodservice establishments in 1995.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, fluid milk, grain products, and sweeteners (mostly sugar and high-fructose corn syrup) accounted for two-thirds of the losses. 16 billion pounds of milk and 14 billion pounds of grain products are also included in this loss.

Food that could have gone to millions

According to the US Department of Agriculture, up to one-fifth of America's food goes to waste each year, with an estimated 130 pounds of food per person ending up in landfills. The annual value of this lost food is estimated at around $31 billion But the real story is that roughly 49 million people could have been fed by those lost resources. (For your persona jihad against wastage, see A Citizen's Guide to Food Recovery

(The figures below are 1998 figures)

  • Proportion of Americans living below the poverty level: 12.7 percent (34.5 million people)
  • The average poverty threshold for a family of four: $16,660 in annual income
  • The average poverty threshold for a family ofthree: $13,003 in annual income
  • Poverty rate for metropolitan areas: 12.3 percent
  • Poverty rate forthose living inside central cities: 18.5 percent
  • Poverty rate for those living in the suburbs: 8.7 percent
  • Percentage and number of poor children: 18.9 percent (13.5 million)
  • Children make up 39 percent of the poor and 26 percent of the total population.
  • The poverty rate for children is higher than for any other age group.

Child poverty:

  • -for children under age 6 living in families with a female householder and no husband present: 54.8 percent
  • -for children under age 6 in married-couple families: 10.1 percent
  • Poverty rate for African Americans: 26.1 percent
  • Poverty rate for Asians and Pacific Islanders: 12.5 percent
  • Poverty rate for Hispanics of any race: 25.6 percent
  • Poverty rate fornon-Hispanic whites: 8.2 percent


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Anne marie is stupid..... poverty can happen to any body... not just obese people or families with lots of kids. Maybe miss. naive should wake up and smell the coffee!



Actually AnneMarie is right. Like it or not. I have been in the people business for thirteen years and currently live in a town where a large percentage of families are below the poverty line. They happen to be the most obese and unhealthy people around, which by the way does cost more money as they see doctors to treat their ailments caused by living an unhealthy lifestyle. It has nothing to do with healthy food costing more money. It has everything to do with people buying cheap crap food that makes them feel good and tastes great. It has much more to do with a worldview where the government pays for everything and "I get to sit around watching TV all day eating mac and cheese". Call it harsh or cruel or whatever - or go get in your car and visit your local trailer park. It takes years to educate and help bring people out of this mentality, it's not an overnight fix - and for Heaven's sake, it's not something we need to throw more money at.


Bluffton, IN

Anne Marie from LA is an idiot - how bad could it be? Really? Perhaps you don't realize that its expensive to eat healthy. Pasta, rice, beans, bread...much cheaper than vegetables, better cuts of meat, etc. You need a good wake up call lady... Give some money to a food bank and shut your mouth.



After reading the comments of hunger and poverty in the USA, I can say that there is no real commitment as human beings to help those in need. I see statistics, numbers, but what I do not see is action. The UN, and most organizations are together with governments that talk and do nothing. I see it in my country every president leaves with handful of money not carrying for its people.It is said that there is for everybody then why become so voracious.Humanity has leant nothing and destroys the wonderful world which was given to us free. May God help us before the end comes.


Mexico City

Actually Ron, though many businesses do fear donating food because of the liability issue, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was signed by Pres.Clinton in 1996 to protect business and others who donate or help in the process of donation of food. So, that helps a lot. Also, there were exact parameteers established for what food qualifies to be donated and within those guidelines there is a tremendous amount of food that can be used for good and not thrown away. Perhaps you can't give away food that you dont want to finish on your plate, agreed, but anyone could hook up with a food rescue agency and volunteer one night a week or a month to pick up food from restaurants and supermarkets, i.e. bagels from Panera Bread, who is one of the many restaurants very open to donating, and deliver them to a shelter in need.


Paola, Kansas

The information is good the know and to share. However, there is information that is not offered in the report that needs to be considered. What is not reported is the fact that USDA has set mandates that oppose of giving away of certain foods. Also, in our litigate happy society, people and commercial establishments are fearful of such things. Some state laws also mandate illegal activities of how excess foods is handled. Once one has ALL the facts, then a final statement can be given and a solution sought.


North Saint Paul, MN

most of the poor people in america are usually the minority. many of whom have come to america to get a better life. i too was raise in a family of low income. i remember growing up and not wearing any fancy clothing and my parents were not home until night down, usually until 9 to 10 o'clock at night. I did not have any help on my homework and i couldnt stay after school for programs because there would be no buses(2 mile distance). my parents also have low education and when it comes to school meeting, they wouldnt go because there was no translator. So i think we need to open our eyes and look deeper into WHO is really in poverty, and who wants to be in poverty. i am now attending my first year in college as a freshman and its very difficult with money. getting a job at this economic time is also hard. so if its hard for you with money, think about the lower income for those who have nightmare every night seeing if they could make ends meet.



I am truly amazed at some of the comments that were just written by some of the most uncaring people in this country, well maybe not the most but pretty darn close. You may be young now but there will come a time when you are not and since you do not seem to realize that the poverty in the United States is the hardest on the children that are growing up. Do you know that malnutrition causes a child to be stunted in growth and retards there cognitive development, bet not. Did you know that these two factors prevent these children from reaching their full potential as adults, bet not. Malnutrition and malabsorption cause people to be either obese or very skinny, bet not. Of course you can waste food and make rude comments but if and when the shoe is on the other foot, remember this day. I will pray for you that the same kind of people that you are, will not be the ones taking care of your well being. May God forgive you.


Weather, Texas

We have to remember that the poorest among us are obese. Also, the poorest among us have the highest number of children. The children are also tend toward obesity. How bad could it be??


Los Angeles

I am a college student in my second year who is also holding a full-time job. But, I am not struggling in any way. I come from a family of Doctors from Barrington, Il, I believe fate has set me up just fine. But, when I read these statistics and do further research to realise they are true that strikes a note. It hits me in the heart and then in the mind. And it stuns me that others can not feel the same way, not think the same way, but FEEL the same way. Are we not human? Are we all not endowed with that same basic gift of conscience? As a person of olbvious wealth, I am not trying to gloat, it seems to me that this incredible gift is a responsiblity. A responsibilty set upon me by fate, God, humanity, whoever to help my co-human. That child who sits next to me, that father who works long hours and sees nothing for it, or that mother who does the double shift while loving and caring for her children. For some people life is difficult and harsh and mean. For others it is a bliss of freedom and excess. Yet, it strikes me that those with freedom and excess should strive to better themselves by supporting and helping those who struggle. For are we not defined as human first and as such require the fulfillment of the need to help others? To those whose comments I read, that were less than flattering, I ask you "are you human or a robot who seeks their own comfort?" Whether you believe in a God or not there is a conscience (and if you do not believe in that go make a child cry and tell me you don't feel a tinge of loathing and regret towards yourself) and that conscience is hardwired in a way that demands social justice and freedom. When you can look a starving child in the face while you eat or go and visit the slums of Africa and not feel some sort of regret and despairity, then you are not human. You are a form of evil unbeknown to me and hopefully an evil that does not exist. For a human without a conscience is not a human but a demon, an evil that has no right to life or freedom.




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