Survey finds hunger widespread among Alaska Natives

A quarter of families surveyed must choose between food and rent

Posted: Monday, March 13, 2006

POINT HOPE, Alaska - Hunger is no stranger in the homes of Alaska Natives from the North Slope's Point Hope to Bristol Bay's Dillingham and on to Klawock in the Southeast.

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That's only a few of the many places its familiar face was found among Alaska Natives during preparation of the Hunger in America 2006 Study.

Food Bank of Alaska and the Alaska Food Coalition joined forces to survey clients and agencies across the state to provide data for the study, which was commissioned by America's Second Harvest, the country's nationwide food-bank network.

Hunger data in Alaska was collected for the 2006 report from clients and agencies in Anchorage, Dillingham, Eagle River, Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, Homer, Illiamna, Juneau, Kenai, Klawock, Palmer, Point Hope, Seward, Soldotna, Sterling, Valdez and Wasilla.

Of the 351 adult clients surveyed for hunger by Food Bank of Alaska workers, 58 - or 16.5 percent - were Alaska Native or American Indian. In Census 2000, Alaska Natives or American Indians represented nearly 15.5 percent of the state's total population.

Survey findings across the state would indicate that hunger also is no stranger to low-income urban areas, where many Alaska Natives have migrated in search of work or educational opportunities.

However, more than 66 percent of the Food Bank of Alaska clients surveyed were non-Native - 56 percent Caucasians and 10 percent Afro-Americans.

In addition, the survey found that nearly half the Alaska "food pantry" clients surveyed had one or more adults in their household who were employed. And a third of them were homeowners.

However, nine in 10 "soup kitchen" clients were homeless.

More than half of the elders - seniors 65 years of age or older - were considered "food insecure," meaning they consistently don't get enough to eat.

Low income or no income were better indicators of hunger than geography or age, however. The study in Alaska documents that more than 52 percent of hungry clients had incomes of less than $1,000 per month, whether they lived in Point Hope or Anchorage.

The 2005 adjusted federal poverty level in Alaska is $2,016 per month for a family of four. For a family of three, it is $1,676 per month. For a family of two, it is $1,336 per month. For a one-member family, it is $996 per month.

Ironically, with more than 52 percent of the clients reporting incomes of less than $1,000 per month - the federally defined poverty threshold in Alaska - nearly 35 percent were married or "living as married."

Married or living as married would point to a certain number of two-person households with a federal poverty threshold in Alaska of $1,336 per month, but experiencing household income of less than $1,000 per month - $336 below the poverty line.

More than 75 percent of the households surveyed had incomes ranging from below the Alaska-adjusted federal poverty threshold to 30 percent above it.

But nearly 10 percent of the Food Bank of Alaska survey's "pantry clients" reported no monthly income. And nearly 50 percent of the survey's "kitchen clients" had no monthly income, despite the fact that most of those interviewed were high school graduates and many had attended college, or earned college degrees.

Nearly 32 percent of those surveyed reported facing a financial choice between buying food and paying utilities or heating fuel during the past year.

Nearly 25 percent of those surveyed reported facing a decision between food and paying the rent or mortgage. And another 32 percent reported facing a financial choice between buying food and paying for medicine or medical care.

More than 10 percent said they faced all three decisions during the past year.

About 14 percent said they faced two of those three decisions in the last 12 months. And more than 28 percent said they faced at least one of those three decisions last year.

More than 43 percent of the adults surveyed said they either skipped meals or cut the size of the meals every month because they had experienced an inability to pay for food in the past year.

And more than 56 percent reported not eating as a direct result of their inability to afford the purchase of food. Nearly 46 percent said they did not eat for at least one entire day because they did not have enough money for food.

About a fourth of the survey's clients with children reported that the kids "sometimes" experienced hunger because the family could not afford food.

Meanwhile, Food Bank of Alaska and its partners said the network provides food for an estimated 83,174 people annually from a state population of 655,435.

That's food for one of every eight Alaskans.

Moreover, food pantries and soup kitchens all across Alaska dispelled any thought that hunger is diminishing in the state.

More than half of food pantries and shelters, and more than 80 percent of the soup kitchens, reported that they serve more clients now than they did in 2001.



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