Hunger, Food Stamps, and Social Stigma

When the new numbers about food insecurity came out a few weeks ago, they shocked even the people who expected the statistics to be bad. The number of people struggling to put food on the table is frightening. The recession is challenging more and more families to make ends meet. The result is that many families who have been solidly middle class for generations are now seeking assistance from local food banks and applying for food stamps.

On Thanksgiving weekend, the New York Times ran an article about the soaring use of food stamps and the fading stigma. The other night when I was watching TV, a lead for a story that would be airing on the local news cast later that evening stated that the users of food stamps was increasing and “looking more and more like you.”

I am gratified to see that the social stigma of food stamps is going away, but why is it there in the first place? Families who are chronically hungry, who have struggled for generations to survive are fighting systemic poverty, and the greater society always blames the victim. People are shamed when they need to turn to social agencies for help, and those who stand back and judge accuse those in poverty of milking the system.

Suddenly, with the rising unemployment numbers, more people are close to the struggle. Either we are close to someone who is struggling, or we are struggling ourselves. More of us can relate directly to the struggle, and that makes people realize that there is no shame in it.

When times get better, I hope that the shame doesn’t return.

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