I came upon a bit of statistical propaganda today - all for a good cause of course. I was re-introduced to the term 'Food Security'. What the heck is 'food security'? Are the people hungry or not? Are they starving or just hungry?
I leave it to you as an exercise to get a handle around the concept. I will do it in terms of historical comparison. Which is to say, to flesh out my Peasant Theory int he context of what Americans take for granted and what the world standard for hunger and poverty actually is. Always in the back of my mind is the Gapminder. By world standards, poverty is defined as living on less than $2 per day. Yes that's two. So ask yourself, while you are watching one of the Discovery Channel survival shows exactly how many calories you really need. Since we live in America nobody really says. Wolfram says anywhere between 1600 and 2800. Everywhere on the web there are Body Mass Index calculators which are just guides to help you become slim by convincing you that you are overweight. But that's not about the biological facts of what is necessary for you to survive. So such a wide range makes me want to hazard a guess, but I won't. I'll just say that hunger is relative. Consider the following survey question:
“We relied on only a few kinds of low-cost food to feed our children because we were running out of money to buy food.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?
Hell, I ate mackerel when I was a kid because we couldn't afford Chicken of the Sea. We endured the shame of shopping at Lucky Supermarkets and ate plain wrap. Horror of horrors.
Fortunately, there is some nice transparency if you want to dig into the matter. A reasonably complete accounting of the terms and methods can be found at the USDA. Since I look at boundary conditions, I immediately went to check out Wilcox County, Alabama which had the highest rate of food insecurity in America - something on the order of 38 percent. It turns out that Wilcox County's population has been shrinking since after WW2 and is now about 11,000 folks with only 13 people per square mile. I'm not surprised that there are people who miss meals in Alabama, and it stands to reason that when you're that far out in the sticks, there ain't much work nor an easy way to get McNuggets.
What strikes me when I read such matters (and in parallel, I'm reading Niall Ferguson's latest book which reveals that in 16th Century Western Europe the murder rate was 50/100,000 and the average height of a Frenchman was 5' 4") is how it is somewhat relativistic. In particular, coming across this particular paragraph was remarkable:
While children are usually shielded from the disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security, both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security in 1.0 percent of households with children (386,000 households) in 2010, essentially unchanged from 1.2 percent in 2009. However, among households with children in which incomes were below 185 percent of the poverty line, the percentage with very low food security among children declined from 2.9 percent in 2009 to 2.1 percent in 2010.
1. I recall that there are 119M households in America. About 38M have children.
2. Incomes below 185% of the poverty line.. OK the poverty line is not a line so much as a matrix. Here's the matrix:
|Size of family|
So apparently it's a regular thing to not just talk about poverty, but people who are near to poverty. We are being statistically inclusive when we talk about 'the poor'.
An old friend of mine used to joke about the 'LA Poverty Line' which for single hale fellows well met was 36K in 1985. By which we meant that our basic necessities included a sporty automobile and a nice apartment near the beach. Both of us celebrated when we rose above that 'poverty' line. And while today we can easily be considered to be part of the 5%, what I refer to as The Slice, it's clear that while we were joking about poverty inflation, others in the government were not and are not.
Clearly it would be an abomination to inflate America's baseline poverty rate to something like the 150% or 185% levels. But we accomodate the public interest in fractions above 1% by including the inflated poverty benchmarks. It *is* interesting to know that food security in the 185% poverty category for children decreased 80 basis points from 2009 to 2010 from 2.9 to 2.1% - even though most of the general public doesn't use the term 'basis point'.
I think I would actually like to see the return of plain wrap, but they'd compete with store brands and probably wouldn't do so well. The American poor. How poor are they?