In Delaware County, children—particularly young children—are more likely to be living in poverty than any other age group. The number of economically disadvantaged students continues to rise, and Delco school districts are struggling to meet their needs. To fully understand the problem, we must delve deeper into food insecurity in Delaware County.
Since 2008, the share of children in poverty in Delaware County has increased 30% and the number of students eligible for free and reduced price school meals increased 20%. But there’s a difference between recognizing a need and fulfilling it. In 2012, 12 of Delaware County’s 15 school districts served school breakfast to less than a quarter of eligible students. The Springfield School District has seen a nearly 80% rise in the number students eligible for free or reduced price meals; looking closer, we find only 8% of eligible students were served breakfast. But the most egregious district is Marple Newtown, where the number of eligible students more than doubled. Marple Newtown does not offer a breakfast program.
In fact, countywide, participation in school meals has actually dropped since 2008, despite the rise in need. Only two out of three eligible students receive lunch, a nearly 10% drop, while participation in school breakfast has dropped five percent to less than a third of eligible students. Of course, school isn’t the only place where children need assistance with food. The number of Delaware County children enrolled in SNAP (food stamps) increased 31% in the last three years to the point where children make up more than two out of every five SNAP participants in Delco, despite being less than a quarter of the population. Unfortunately, as of November 1st, SNAP benefits were reduced so that Delaware County families will lose an estimated $6.7 million in benefits in the coming year.
For the 16% of Delaware County children experiencing food insecurity, the problems don’t end with being hungry in class. Ultimately, food insecurity exacts a huge cost as it contributes to a greater likelihood of limited employability, lessened workforce productivity, poorer job performance, and $260,000 lower lifetime earnings. “A growing number of parents all across Delaware County are having trouble putting food on the table for their children,” said Kathy Fisher, PCCY’s family economic security director for PCCY. “Now, more than ever, it is important for county leaders to do everything they can so children don’t go hungry in Delaware County.”
Hunger doesn’t come out of nowhere. Food insecurity is not caused solely by a lack of access to benefits. If people can afford proper nutrition, they’ll supply it for their children. While the nation has spent the last four years pulling itself out of the recession, the median income in Delaware County is actually $5,600 less than it was in 2008. As you may have imagined, families on the lower end of the economic spectrum were hit the worst. One in four families in Delco makes less than $45,000 a year, up 23% since 2008. The best strategy for reducing childhood hunger and food insecurity is a job that pays a decent wage for parents. If our legislators don’t take action to help get these families back on their feet, there’s little hope for children who don’t have enough on their plates.