Interactive Map: NJ’s Hungriest Counties, Tracking the Food Deserts

The state continues to shrug off the effects of the recent recession, but hunger remains all too real in the lives of too many residents

New Jersey’s recovery from the recent recession brought a drop in the number of people experiencing hunger or food insecurity, but advocates say too many people in the state continue to have trouble feeding themselves and their families.

The latest Map the Meal Gap report from Feeding America found that more than 1 million New Jerseyans, or about 12 percent of the population in 2014, were “food insecure” — meaning they were unable, at times, to get enough healthy food for their themselves and families. That was about 100,000 people, or 9 percent, fewer than two years earlier. The proportion of food-insecure individuals in New Jersey was less than the national average of 15.4 percent.

A greater proportion of children faced food insecurity: Nearly 17 percent of all those under age 18 in New Jersey faced hunger or had limited access to nutritious food at least some time during the year, the report showed. But that measure improved even more than for all New Jerseyans, with the number of food insecure children dropping by nearly 10 percent between 2012 and 2014.

“Though overall food insecurity is lower now than it was back in 2012, there are in fact still over a million people and close to 340,000 children food insecure,” said Diane Riley, director of advocacy at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey. “Given that unemployment has decreased you would expect it to have a more significant effect on food insecurity. But hunger is still prevalent in every county, and in some counties, the numbers have risen.”

Map the Meal Gap shows more people facing food insecurity in Cape May and Salem counties in 2014, than in 2012. More children also faced hunger or a lack of access to food in those counties, as well as Atlantic, in 2014, according to the report.

“While the economy has improved and unemployment rates have declined, many people are still struggling to access adequate amounts of nutritious food for their families,” said Diana Aviv, chief executive officer of Feeding America, in releasing the report in late April.

“No one should have to struggle with hunger, especially in a country as rich as the United States,” said Howard Buffett, Chairman and CEO of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which sponsors the Map the Meal Gap project. “And yet more than 48 million people continue to be food insecure in this country … We hope that this year’s report reminds us of the challenges that millions of people in communities throughout the country continue to face and strive to overcome every day.”

Riley said that in New Jersey, one reason why so many continue to have problems getting enough food is that many of the post-recession job gains are in low-wage fields.

“If you look at the trend in the wage income in the most employed jobs then you see that the number one employed job in New Jersey is sales clerk and the wage level is about $26,000 a year,” Riley said. “You can see why that might not be enough to pay the rent, get to the job, and also buy food. ”

On the other hand, the greatest declines in food insecurity in New Jersey, both overall and for children, were in Hudson and Passaic counties.

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