Marketplace spent a lot of time last week poring over the Federal Reserve’s latest beige book — the central bank’s report on the state of businesses, consumers, and even nonprofits. Published eight times a year, it provides a national picture as well as regional reports from the 10 Federal Reserve Districts.
One point from these regional reports jumps out at us: food banks are seeing more and more clients and food insecurity is on the rise, largely because inflation has made food too expensive for some families.
In fact, things were improving last year when it comes to food security. Unemployment was low and wages were rising. As a result, fewer people were going to food banks for help than at the start of the pandemic.
That changed this spring, said Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan. “We are the canary in the coal mine for what is happening for low-income people in our community.”
What happens is inflation. The nonprofit is on track to serve 1.5 million people and families this year, about 25% more than last year and nearly double the number before the pandemic.
“When your income is too low to pay for your housing, your health care, your transportation, the easiest thing to ask for is food assistance. It’s much harder to get help with rent, energy, finding a new job,” Morgan said.
It’s happening all over the country. Feeding America, a national umbrella organization for food banks, reported a 15% increase in demand early in the summer.
“Where we’re seeing a sharp rise in prices are things like gasoline prices, food and rent and basic necessities that are hitting low-income households particularly hard,” the economist said. Jim Sullivan, who studies poverty at Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities.
In July, the cost of food at grocery stores rose 13% year-over-year, the biggest jump since 1979. And it’s having consequences, said Bankrate financial analyst Greg McBride.
“Look at the savings balances that had been accumulated during the pandemic, those are going down. Credit card balances, which had gone down during the pandemic, are going up again.”
At the Oregon Food Bank’s sprawling central warehouse in Portland, forklifts load pallets of soup, applesauce, milk and fresh vegetables. Most of it is bought in bulk, spokesman Jason Stephany said, with government funds and charitable donations.
“So our scale is huge. But if the cost of food goes up, it certainly has an impact, even on us.
An example: A tractor-trailer full of peanut butter that cost $34,000 before the pandemic now costs well over $40,000.
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