The number of Iowa families that have had trouble affording food is on the rise, according to a new government report.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture study shows that 9.5 percent of the state's families have had trouble buying enough food in recent years. That was up from 8 percent a decade ago.
"Families are living on the edge," said Karen Ford, executive director of the Food Bank of Iowa. "The cost of food rising, the utilities, the scare of what the winter is going to bring. If one thing goes wrong, even if your car breaks down, you end up being in a real bad situation."
The USDA surveys families to determine the extent of hunger. Even if they never actually go hungry, families are considered food-insecure if they are uncertain of having enough to eat at some time during the year. Nationally, about 11 percent of households are considered food-insecure.
The typical U.S. family spent $38 per person for food each week in 2003, the report showed.
About 3 percent of Iowa families have gone hungry in recent years, a rate below the national average. Statewide hunger and food insecurity rates are averaged over three years.
"It is disheartening to know that, as so many of us celebrate our prosperity this Thanksgiving, nearly 10 percent of Iowa families live with the uncertainty of whether they will have enough money to buy food for everybody in the household," said Sen. Tom Harkin.
Utah had the largest increase in food insecurity, going from 10.3 percent to 14.6 percent from 1996-98 to 2001-03. North Carolina had a 3.9 percent increase.
Arkansas had the highest rate of food insecurity at 15.5 percent, followed by Texas and Mississippi at 14.9 percent and New Mexico at 14.8 percent.
The increases are a reflection of "the growing inequality of income in the country," said Jim Weill, of the Food Research and Action Center, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
Food pantries in Iowa have reported a sharp increase in requests since late summer, including many first-time families seeking help.
"There's an awful lot of people, and there aren't that many jobs," said Doug Van Norden, associate director of Community Kitchen, which operates four feeding sites in Des Moines.