This month, the US military announced that the air force had delivered more than 110,000 meal rations to stranded Yazidi refugees in Iraq, in a mission that prompted President Obama to hail “the skill and professionalism of our military, and the generosity of our people.”
Also this month, a new report found that the nation’s food pantries serve 620,000 families with a member in the military—another troubling indication that service members battling against poverty must often rely on the generosity of our charities.
The stunning figure, which represents roughly a quarter of the households of military members on active duty, the Reserves or National Guard, shows that even as the United States purports to wind down its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and soldiers return to civilian life, they are resettling into a hostile economic climate, on a precarious landscape of joblessness and debt.
The data comes from an extensive quadrennial report published by Feeding America, a national network of tens of thousands of food aid groups and programs. The study also found that one-fifth of the households served by the food pantry network had a member involved with the armed forces, either currently serving or a veteran.
Feeding America spokesperson Maura Daly tells The Nation that the numbers reflect trends that local partner organizations have been observing anecdotally. “What we’re seeing in the data… is indicative of many working poor families in America, where one income is supporting an entire household and multiple needs,” Daly says. For the client population generally, over half the households served have at least one member who is employed, yet nearly three-quarters live in poverty. They’re caught in a knot of impossible choices: as they stretched their monthly budgets, about two-thirds were torn between paying for either utilities or for food, or between food and medical care.
(Courtesy: Feeding America)
For military families, constantly moving from station to station may feed into the hardships undergirding food insecurity, especially if families end up stuck in, say, a more expensive city, and struggle to secure a long-term job. (Military spouses typically suffer higher unemployment rates and earn less than non-military peers, according to federal surveys.)
In the San Diego area, where 27 percent of the households served by Feeding America have a current or former military member, Jennifer Gilmore, executive director of Feeding America San Diego, tells The Nation via email that from the local clients they serve, “we have heard that struggles are associated with the higher cost of living in certain areas and difficulty for family members to hold steady jobs amid transfers and deployments.” Veterans may face even worse hardships, scraping by on meager disability payments and retirement funds.