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After paying all their bills from electric and gas to cell phone and rent, an amazing number of Americans cannot afford food.  This is taking place all across the country even though the United States is now five years into the economic recovery and the unemployment rate is falling.

According to a 160-page study released by the relief charity Feeding America, titled “Hunger in America 2014,” more than 12 million households are forced to eat unhealthy food because they can’t afford more nutritious food; 66 percent of households often have to choose between buying groceries and paying for medicine or medical care; and a whopping 69 percent of households depend on food charities.

Having interviewed 60,000 people whose households are served by the charity over a period of four years, Feeding America says this is the largest, most comprehensive study of hunger in the U.S. ever. And according to the USDA, last year there were 49 million Americans without consistent access to enough food. Among those who took part in Feeding America’s survey, the median household income was a mere $9,175 annually, which is way below the federal poverty threshold of $18,222 for a family of three.

Decreasing unemployment doesn’t mean that these Americans will all of a sudden have enough to eat. In fact, “even when more people get jobs, those jobs don’t always pay enough for them to afford to eat,” reports The Huffington Post.

“If food prices go up, families are more constrained, and they’re more likely to be food insecure,” said USDA economist Christian Gregory, who co-authored the report.

Food prices have increased by an average of 2.8 percent every year since 2007, according to USDA. And prices are expected to jump as much as 3.5 percent this year. Wages, however, have remained the same–or decreased.  The Economic Policy Institute found recently that wages fell during the recession and the recovery for workers in the bottom 70 percent of the wage earnings, even though there were increases in productivity.

Obviously many Americans need help. But of the 15.5 million households served by Feeding America, only a little more than half get monthly food stamps. And about 54 percent of those who do report their food stamps sustain them for two weeks or less. It makes one wonder why Congress recently cut $800 million per year in funding for the food stamp program, reducing benefits for 850,000 households nationwide.

“This report clearly makes a case for the importance of federal nutrition programs,” Feeding America spokesman Ross Fraser said. “They are the first line of defense for someone who lives at risk of hunger.”

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