Tell me about food insecurity in the US

I was watching The Daily Show year recap. Trevor Noah claimed 160,000 military families could not afford food and so required food banks and such. Is this true? If it is, how can it possibly be justified?

I don’t have the exact numbers and I’m not entirely sure how to get them, but yes, there are significant numbers of military families that are some sort of supplemental food program, mostly SNAP/food stamps but also things like reduced price school lunch programs for kids and yes, use of food banks/pantries.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, pay for the lower-level military ranks is not great. I work as a cashier in a grocery store and earn more than the three lowest ranks of army enlisted. It’s an adequate salary for a single person, particularly if they can get housing from the military, but not enough for two people much less two people with kids. Military spouses have difficulty getting and keeping a job for a second income because military families are often relocated.

How is it justified? I’m not sure that it is. But for all that so many in the US worship the military they don’t really treat the enlisted very well.

In addition to this, military families are often too young. You get a a couple 24 year olds with 2-3 kids, with a low income and no support system and no guidance. The military culture can put a lot of pressure on enlisted to spend on pretty stupid things: a nice truck and going out drinking on a regular basis are both pretty common mistakes. So then you get a family in with a ton of consumer debt, and it’s that much harder to survive. So you can easily end up at a food bank even if on paper it looks like you shouldn’t need it.

This isn’t to say that these young adults are flagrantly irresponsible. It’s just an environment that really encourages this particular trap. And, as always, the financial errors everyone makes have much harsher consequences on the poor.

It’s true that it’s ridiculous that the voting age was 21 but the draft/enlistment age was 18. We got the solution wrong. We should have moved the minimum age for enlistment to 21.

There has always been an issue with food insecurity in military families in the US for certain segments. Generally, enlisted personnel where the enlisted person is the sole provider and the partner doesn’t work. I imagine that, due to covid, this has become even more of an issue.

There are programs (such as the food banks you mentioned, SNAP, and some others) that are there to address this, both in the military and in the civilian world as well. I know this has been an issue in the military for a while, and at least I thought they had gotten it below the general population (i.e. the percentage of food insecurity in military families is below the percentage in the wider population), but perhaps with covid and all of the associated issues, it’s gotten worse.

Not sure what you mean by justified…it’s a known issue that there have been various steps taken to address, both on the military side as well as the broader civilian population. It’s a work in progress, and there are still a lot of issues, but there are also both private and public programs that try and mitigate it. It shouldn’t happen in a country as wealthy as the US, no doubt, but IMHO the majority of our issues come from too much food (of the wrong kind) than too little, as at all levels obesity seems to be a much bigger issue. Still, no one in the US should ever go hungry or have food security issues, so we need to continue to strive to mitigate this issue to the greatest extent possible.

Well, how much should we pay relatively unskilled labor in the armed forces? Should it necessarily be enough to provide the sole support for a family of how many?

If someone chooses to have a family w/ limited means of support, what is the problem with providing nourishment through SNAP/food banks/etc?

One issue is that the nature of military life makes it really difficult for a spouse to work. If we want enlisted to stay into their late twenties and thirties, there should be a way for enlisted to have a family. If we want enlisted to be a bunch of people in their early 20s, passing through, then maybe we don’t.

On the other hand, providing better housing and medical care combined with no real opportunity to work leads to way too many enlisted getting married and starting a family at 20-22, and anecdotally those marriages often seem to be awful, mutually destructive trainwrecks. So further incentivizing them seems unwise.

But the impact of the military on the spouse’s earning ability is not just a matter of personal choices. We ask a lot of military spouses. In the private sector, perhaps it’s reasonable to say “single income families shouldn’t expect to be able to afford children responsibly”. But this is different.

How so?

Because the nature of military life demands the non-military spouse take a hit to their earning ability, often a dramatic one.

How so?

“Justify” is a poor choice of word, but America is a wealthy country where 40% of food is thrown away. Having 10% of its population “food insecure”, if these numbers are true, makes little moral, medical or market sense. Poor nutrition has many social costs which likely far exceed the cost of food.

America spends a great deal on its military and endeavouring to have its members in adequate physical and psychological shape would seem to be a reasonable priority. Certainly cultural influences and peer pressure are involved. I certainly could not say how much education and support is offered. The number surprised me, though.

For one thing, you move at the military’s whim, not by personal choice. If the family wants to stay together, they have to move where the person in the military is deployed. It can make getting a second job challenging. I imagine right now that’s even more challenging with covid. There are other factors too.

Being the partner of someone in the military is very challenging, especially at the lower enlisted level.

Well, isn’t this the sort of thing someone could anticipate when choosing to enlist, or choosing to partner with someone who does?

Sure. You could say that about a lot of things. It’s all about the choices we make. But life happens, and the reality is that there are people who are in this situation and need assistance, especially since what they didn’t anticipate or choose is something like covid biting us collectively on the ass. Also, as I said, you don’t have a choice where you are deployed, and might not anticipate some of the places where you are deployed with respect to your partners ability to get a second job to help out.

Also, if you have a kid, you can’t take a job that is at all inflexible, as the enlisted person is much less free to stay home with a sick kid, take the kid to the doctor, etc. You also likely don’t have family anywhere near, so grandma isn’t available to watch a sick kid, either. You can’t do nights or weekends, because there is no day care. You can only get a college degree through on-line school, because even if you live close to a university now, you’re likely to move. You can’t work your way up an organization, because you move every couple years.

I sure don’t see how the expected conditions of employment are similar to a global pandemic, but this is IMHO.

But it sounds like there is assistance available - through SNAP, good pantries, etc. So it sounds as though the system is working, whether due to one’s choice of employment or other factors.

Yes, that too. At all levels of the military, it can be challenging to really help out with the kids, especially if you are in a service where you can and are deployed to the field for long periods.

All choices. The military already receives sufficient welfare. No reason to increase it.

Sure, but again, do we want a military that is structurally designed to encourage nothing but single people, or that asks people to chose between serving their country and having a family?

As with our systems as a whole, it works for the vast majority. But you still have people who fall through the cracks…and wrt food security, this shouldn’t be the case in a country as wealthy as ours. There should be as close to zero people with food security issues, whether military or non-military, as is practically possible…and we still aren’t there yet. Though, as you noted, we are trying to mitigate this issue and striving to get there.

Fine w/ me. Maybe allow some add passes to allow travel to visit partner/family who chose not to relocate.