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Raleigh, N.C. — Hunger cost North Carolina more than $5.4 billion in lost productivity and reduced outcomes last year, according to a recent report from the Center for American Progress.

These findings come on the heels of alarming Census data which show unemployment in North Carolina stalled above 10 percent for the second consecutive year and poverty is increasing across the state.

In 2010, 15.7 percent of North Carolina households — nearly one in six — went hungry or faced food insecurity at some point during the year. When considered in relation to the total population, the direct and indirect costs of hunger averaged $570 per North Carolina resident — about $1,452 per household.

North Carolina was one of just 12 states in which the estimated cost of hunger has increased by more than $1 billion since the start of the recession.

“These estimates are a gripping reminder that the social and economic implications of family economic security are far-reaching,” said Barb Bradley, President and CEO of Action for Children North Carolina, a statewide policy research and advocacy organization that tracks child well-being in North Carolina. “When families struggle to put food on the table, the effects ripple through the state economy, creating greater health costs, educational problems and reduced opportunities for our children.”

Research shows that children are disproportionately impacted by the experience of food insecurity — an effect which persists well into their adult years. Children who grow up in food insecure households are more likely to go without health care, have increased school absenteeism and face greater risk of early academic failure, including dropping out of school, than their food-secure peers. As those children age and transition into the workforce, they encounter diminished outcomes in the form of limited employability and lower lifetime earnings.

Nationally, hunger-induced losses in educational outcomes, earnings and health cost the country an estimated $167.5 billion last year, an increase of 33.5 percent since 2007.

The report notes that expansions to a key federal nutrition assistance program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-formerly food stamps), helped many families meet some of their household food needs. In North Carolina, one in five residents, more than 1.9 million people, received SNAP benefits in 2010. Forty percent of them were children under the age of 18. Bradley says in these tough economic times, SNAP plays a pivotal role in helping to preserve the fiscal health of our state economy.

“Every dollar of SNAP benefit generates $1.84 in economic activity,” said Bradley. “This means federal efforts to support families in tough times are not just good for individuals, they are critical for the state, keeping hunger-associated costs down, children in school and our workforce ready to drive the new economy. “

Read Hunger in America: Suffering We All Pay For. 

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