Washington The number of hungry families dropped by 24 percent as the nation's economy boomed in the late 1990s, but millions of working poor still have trouble getting adequate food, the government said Friday.
Slightly less than 3 million families, or 2.8 percent of the nation's households, had at least one member who went hungry in 1999, down from 3.95 million in 1995, according to an annual Agriculture Department report.
Dan Glickman, U.S. secretary of agriculture
Another 6 million households were on the edge of hunger last year.
They're considered to be "food insecure," meaning that they did not have assured access at all times to adequate food.
Altogether, there were 27 million people, including nearly 11 million children, that were hungry or at least food-insecure in 1999, down from 30 million four years earlier.
"While the progress for the population as a whole is significant, it remains appalling and almost bizarre that after eight years of economic recovery we still have 27 million people who are food insecure," said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, an advocacy group.
Among the working poor, the number of families going hungry was dramatically down between 1995 and 1999, but more than one in four households was still considered food-insecure.
There were an estimated 3.6 million households with incomes of between 50 percent and 130 percent of the poverty line $8,350 to $21,710 for a family of four who went hungry or were uncertain about getting enough food in 1999.
Federal officials say that many low-income workers who qualify for food stamps aren't getting them because they don't know they are eligible or have been discouraged from participating in the program because of government red tape, including the complexity of applications, which vary by state.
Enrollment in the program has dropped by a third since 1996. The Agriculture Department funds the food-stamp program but benefits are distributed by states.
"Not only is there too much hunger and food insecurity in this nation, it exists in every state, and every state has a responsibility to ensure that all its citizens have their basic needs met," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.
Hunger rates were highest in the West and among blacks and Hispanics in 1999.
Some 3.6 percent of households in the West suffered hunger sometime during the year, compared to 2 percent of households in the Midwest, 2.5 percent of those in the Northeast and 3.1 percent in the South.
Among black households, 6.1 percent were hungry during 1999, compared to 5.2 percent of Hispanic families and 2 percent of whites.