This Thanksgiving, New Yorkers will be asked to “Remember the Needy.” But for millions of households, that starts with thinking about themselves. The latest statistics on hunger in the city tells the proverbial Tale of Two Cities as a Tale of Two Pantries.
New York’s abysmal wealth gap is evident in many indicators: unemployment rates, rent hikes, surveys showing heavy economic anxiety. The scourge of hunger is more elusive, often masked by shame and hard-nosed resilience. But well over a million New Yorkers have trouble securing their next meal, surviving on a precarious latticework of charities, government subsidies, and informal social networks.
Altogether, according to the latest annual report by the charity network Food Bank for New York City, roughly “1.4 million New York City residents rely on emergency food programs, including soup kitchens and food pantries, each year.” This includes nearly 340,000—about one in five—children, one in five seniors, and nearly one in three veterans. About the same number, 1.3 million New Yorkers, are food insecure, meaning they lack a stable, adequate everyday source of food.
While hunger has always been a pernicious fixture on New York’s landscape, today’s food insecurity reflects rising economic precarity at many social levels, from unaffordable housing to unstable jobs: One in every six people on a crowded subway car may be returning from work to an empty fridge, or beg for a rent extension to pay for groceries, or skip dinner to ensure their children eat their fill, or quietly add extra oatmeal to beef up an otherwise skimpy meatloaf.
Hunger patterns follow neighborhood segregation lines. About one-fifth of Bronxites and Brooklynites are food insecure, compared to just 11 percent of Staten Islanders.
Reflecting nationwide racial disparities in food security, according to a 2012 Food Bank survey, nearly 40 percent of Latino New Yorkers and over a third of blacks “report buying less food to save money,” compared to the (still stunningly high) 23 percent of whites. Similar proportions report eating smaller meals to make do.
And a paycheck is no guarantee of food security, since many jobs often fall short of a living wage: nationwide, Latino households with children depend on food aid at a higher rate than the general population, yet these families are still “more likely to have one or more members working” compared to the general population, according to Feeding America.