A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found the rate of household hunger to be a growing problem in Texas while it remains steady across the rest of the country, and opponents of the Texas model are using the study’s results as ammunition.
Based on a Census survey of 45,000 U.S. households, the study found that in 2008-2010, 18.4 percent of Texans faced some degree of food insecurity – the inability to provide sufficient food for oneself or one’s family – while the country as a whole averaged 14.5 percent. Only Mississippi, at 19.4 percent, had a higher rate.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities immediately pointed their fingers at the low level of state funding for education and nutrition programs. CPPP’s Celia Cole blamed food insecurity on “extensive poverty, a lack of economic opportunity, and barriers to accessing the public and private resources.”
Blaming insufficient funding is easy to do, which is why we so often attempt to mend our societal ills with nothing but a checkbook. But a more fundamental understanding of the causes is essential.
Much like poverty in general, a root cause of food insecurity can be traced to age. A 2005 study from the Oregon Center for Public Policy found that the younger a household is, the more likely they are to suffer from hunger. Texas, with nearly seven million residents under the age of 18, is the third-youngest state in the country.
Food insecurity can also be attributed to mobility and relocation. Research has shown that households which have moved recently often times experience “income shocks” – varying periods of insufficient income – which have a positive relationship with hunger. Texas has experienced an explosion in both domestic and foreign immigration in recent years, driven mainly by rapid economic growth. This has made the state’s residents the most mobile in the country.
Lastly, race can have an effect on food security. According to the USDA study, many states with higher-than-average food insecurity rates also have higher-than-average minority rates. With only 43 percent of the state non-Hispanic white, Texas has the nation’s second-largest minority population.
The peril of food insecurity certainly is a problem, but the underlying causes must be examined before policies to fix it are proposed or enacted.
Proponents of big government will always respond to dilemmas like this with calls for more spending and more control, but rarely is that solution. They consistently blame Texas’ policies of lower spending and less regulation for problems that exist for entirely different reasons.