How About The Food Insecurity Scam?

Perhaps you think I was a little over the top and harsh yesterday in writing about the poverty scam.  The government's "anti-poverty" efforts can't just be completely designed to fail intentionally and deceive the public, can they?  Really, our government would never do such a thing.  Would they?

Well, if you still have your doubts, consider the related topic of "food insecurity."  The government just came out with its latest annual report on that subject a couple of days ago.  The report was covered in an op-ed by James Bovard in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.  While poverty is a big and potentially complicated subject, "food insecurity" is very discrete and focused.  It's like the Rick Perry prosecution -- there's nothing about it that you can't understand in about 10 minutes.

The "food insecurity" scam starts with an annual survey conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DOA).  The survey has multiple questions, but the heart of the matter is question 1:

We worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.” Was that often, sometimes, or never true for you in the last 12 months?

Notice that the question asks only whether you "worried" about running out of food and does not ask whether you were ever "hungry" and if so for how long.  Actually I myself was hungry today (it was a few hours ago, right before dinner).  But anyway, if you respond that you ever "worried" about running out of food, you are classified as having been "food insecure."

This survey began back in 1995, in the Clinton administration, although it had some predecessors going back a little farther.  Why then?  Here is a history of the survey from an advocacy organization (FRAC).  The reason they give?  "[M]any communities across the country experienced an enormous increase in demand for emergency food, often among families with children."  My take:  There was a new Republican Congress, and the government and advocacy groups became desperately worried that someone was going to declare that the food stamp program and other government food programs (WIC, CNP) had ended the problem of hunger in the United States.  A metric was needed that could be somehow vaguely associated with hunger and yet would be impervious to decrease no matter how much food aid and assistance might be provided by the government.  Take a look at that survey question, and you will see that it is perfectly designed for this purpose.  And they were right:  it turns out that year in and year out, in good times and bad, and no matter how much food aid is provided by the government and in what form, somewhere between one person in ten and one in seven gives a positive response to the question of whether they ever "worried" about running out of food.  You can make your own decision as to whether this food insecurity thing was totally dishonest from the get-go, as opposed to only partially dishonest.  I go with totally dishonest.

But even if there was some honesty in devising the metric, there isn't even a hint of honesty in its use.  In his WSJ article, Bovard quotes several Democratic party sources, up to and including President Obama, as taking the "food insecurity" number and immediately equating it, falsely, with "hunger."  Obama (relying on a 2009 "food insecurity" survey): "hunger rose significantly last year" and promis[ing] to reverse "the trend of rising hunger."  The Washington Post (relying on the "food insecurity" survey):  "Hunger a growing problem in America, USDA reports."  The New York Times (also relying on the same survey): "Hunger in U.S. at a 14-Year High."

Bovard notes that in 2006 the National Academy of Sciences, in a half-hearted stab at honesty, urged the DOA to explicitly state that the "food insecurity" numbers are not an estimate of nationwide hunger.

The [DOA] responded by dropping any mention of "hunger" in the survey's response categories. Nevertheless, the survey's results continue to be pervasively misrepresented as an accurate measure of hunger in America.

They dropped any mention of "hunger," but they completely knew that the whole purpose of this study is to allow its results to be misrepresented far and wide as a measure of hunger.  Bovard doesn't quote them, but literally every advocacy organization in the "hunger" space uses the "food insecurity" survey to claim a crisis of hunger in the United States.  Feeding America: 

In many ways, America is the land of plenty. But for 1 in 6 people in the United States, hunger is a very real struggle. . . .   Right now, millions of Americans are at risk of hunger. 

No Kid Hungry:

Hunger prevents kids from reaching their full potential.  It's an epidemic that's threatening America's future. . . .  More than 16 million kids in America live in households that struggle to put food on the table.

The financial and economic crisis that erupted in 2008 caused a dramatic increase in hunger in the United States.  This high level of hunger continued in 2012, according to the latest government report [citing the food insecurity report].

And there are many, many more along the same lines.  Bovard concludes by calling it "paradoxical" that food insecurity may actually increase as participation in government food programs increases:

A 2007 Journal of Nutrition study concluded that families receiving food stamps are over 50% more likely to be "food insecure" than similar households not on food stamps. In 2010, the Government Accountability Office reported that food-stamp participants "tend to be more food insecure" compared with eligible nonparticipants. A 2013 Harvard School of Public Health study also found that enrolling in the food-stamp program failed to significantly boost participants' food security or dietary quality.

Wow, is that an overly nice way to characterize something that is a scam from top to bottom.  There is nothing "paradoxical" about this.  The whole idea of using "food insecurity" as the metric is to have something that is completely impervious to going down no matter how much is spent to solve the problem.  Oh, it actually goes up???  Even better!!!!  Yes, the whole design of the food stamp program is that it forces poor people, who may not be the most together people in the world, to manage a monthly budget and make it last to the end of the month.  Of course they are going to feel "food insecure" at some point!  You could double, or triple, or quadruple the spending on food stamps, and this would still be true.

What I find remarkable is that it's the same organization, the DOA, that both runs the food stamp program and puts out the "food insecurity" surveys.  Don't you think they would be ashamed that their massive $80 billion per year program of food distribution (food stamps, aka SNAP) didn't ever make a dent in the problem they claimed to be trying to solve, namely "food insecurity"?  Shouldn't they be saying, "OK, we blew it.  It's time for somebody else to take over with a new approach"?  It's just incredible that in the world of government total failure is in fact the best advocacy tool for yet more money to go back and fail again.  They design their measurement metric to be absolutely sure that they will always be found to have totally failed.

Now, of course, the government could design an honest "hunger" survey.  Such a survey would ask questions like, "During the year, were you ever hungry for as long as a full day due to having insufficient resources to buy food?" followed by "Did you participate in the food stamp program?  If not, why not?" and "Did you visit a local food pantry or soup kitchen?  If not, why not?"  These questions are highly likely to come up with the result that the number of Americans experiencing actual serious "hunger" during a year is a very small fraction of those currently reported as experiencing "food insecurity."  Could it be as much as 2% of the population?  (Remember, in America today, the poor consume well more calories than the affluent and have a far higher rate of obesity.)  Whatever the results, they wouldn't be much use for selling the public on increasing the food program spending.  So you can be sure that this survey will never be conducted.  We will never actually find out how many Americans experience real hunger in a year.