Oregon has experienced a significant drop in its hunger rate since the state's No. 1 national ranking earlier this decade — at the same time that national rates for hunger and food insecurity have risen, according to an Oregon State University study.
However, the state's hunger rates are still higher than the national rate.
Oregon shows a major drop in hunger rates in non-metropolitan areas, among employed and unemployed households, two-parent families and both renters and homeowners.
The OSU report also points out a large disparity in hunger and food insecurity between Hispanics and non-Hispanics in Oregon.
The newly released analysis, led by Mark Edwards, an associate professor of sociology at OSU, found that Oregon's hunger rate dropped from 5.2 percent of the population from 1999 to 2001, to 3.7 percent during 2002 to 2004, the most recent data available. Food insecurity also dropped, by a smaller margin, from 13.4 percent to 12.2 percent.
National rates for hunger increased from 3.1 to 3.6 percent during that same period, while food insecurity rates went from 10.3 to 11.4 percent.
"The decrease in the Oregon hunger rate may not seem like much, but when you consider that it means roughly 19,000 households in the state no longer report facing hunger, it's pretty significant," Edwards said.
"Determiningwhy Oregon'shungerrate decreased — at a time when the national rate was rising — is more difficult to nail down, but it appears to me that a doubling in the number of food stamps allocated is the most logical explanation."
According to Oregon Department of Human Services data, there were approximately 109,000 food stamp cases per month in Oregon in 1999. By the end of 2004, that number was nearly 218,000. During that period, the department had strengthened its outreach efforts and simplified its application process for potential recipients, Edwards said.
"That trend may also explain why food insecurity hasn't dropped at the same rate," Edwards explained. "Receiving food stamps may hold off hunger, per se, but it doesn't erase all of your concerns about whether there will be enough for you and your family to eat next week or next month. So you can be 'food insecure' but not 'hungry.' "
This was the first year that the study compared overall rates of Hispanic residents to non-Hispanics and the findings were significant, Edwards pointed out. A total of 11.1 percent of Hispanics reported hunger, compared to 5.6 percent of non-Hispanics. The gap in food insecurity was even greater — 29.9 percent for Hispanics, 10.1 percent for non-Hispanics.
The OSU report is a follow-up to a 2003 report released by Edwards and Bruce Weber, an OSU Extension economist, which established baseline data on Oregon's hunger problem. Their data comes from the Current Population Survey, which is conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in conjunction with the Census Bureau.
The researchers looked at changes the state has made since the last analysis. Edwards noted that the decline in hunger has come in almost all of the socio-economic categories.
The only demographic group that increased in reported hunger, according to the OSU researchers, was single mothers — a slight rise from 9.4 percent to 9.6 percent. Food insecurity among single mothers is a major issue, rising from 25.0 percent to 34.3 percent.
Hunger rates are determined by respondents answering a long list of questions, in which they may report that they or their children had skipped meals or significantly reduced the size of their meals; have been hungry but had nothing to eat; or involuntarily lost weight because of a lack of food. Food insecurity is a broader category that includes being concerned about having enough food to avoid those situations.
A copy of the report, "Changes in Hunger and Food Insecurity in Oregon," can be found on the OSU Rural Studies Program Web site, http://arec.oregonstate .edu/ruralstudies/ (click on Oregon Report under activities on the left-hand column).