A new study by a nonpartisan U.S. think tank, the Urban Institute, estimates that nearly 7 million young people ages 10 to 17 struggle daily to find enough to eat, forcing an increasing number of youths to feed themselves by shoplifting, drug trafficking, joining gangs, and even the sex trade.
“It’s really like selling yourself,” said one teenage girl from Portland, who was interviewed by the Urban Institute for their report published Monday, Impossible Choices. “You’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.”
The culprit, the Institute writes, is clear: growing levels of poverty, which is, in turn, triggered by a decline in wages for working class families, and shrinking government assistance programs.
“Research shows that the food budget is one of the first things pared down when times get tough for a family,” according to the report. “Under such conditions, these households can become food insecure—that is, they struggle to acquire enough affordable, nutritious food to healthily feed the whole family.”
Using the most recent U.S. Census data, food insecurity expert Craig Gundersen estimates that 6.8 million youths are hard-pressed to find enough food to eat on any give day, and 2.9 million who have very low food security.
“People,” one Illinois teenager told the Institute, “do what they have to do to survive because not everyone can go out and get a job.”
“(You start) out trying to find a job and when that doesn’t work out, you find a quick hustle,” said another teen from North Carolina.