As partisan clashes in Congress continue to delay decisions on measures that would provide some relief for middle class and poor Americans, a growing number of families are relying on free and reduced-price meals to prevent their children from going hungry.
The numbers paint a distressing picture: A New York Times analysis of Department of Agriculture data reveals a 17 percent increase in the number of students qualifying for subsidized lunches, with 11 states reporting a shocking 25 percent jump. Census figures show the number of people living in poverty reached an all-time high and the number of children considered poor rose by 1 million in 2010. And a new report from the Food Research and Action Center shows a dramatic drop in food spending—especially among black and Hispanic families—as more Americans face unemployment or underemployment.
The toll it takes on students is clear to educators.
“When kids come to school hungry, you can tell,” said Doreen Raftery, who saw all too many students struggle through the school day on an empty stomach during her years working as a paraprofessional in New York City public schools. “They can’t concentrate, they can’t perform.”
Research supports her observations. Students who miss meals have more behavior problems and are more likely to fail math, arrive late at school, miss days entirely and repeat a grade.