Debating Food Equality in New York
Religion & Liberty Online

Debating Food Equality in New York

The Food Bank For New York recently released their annual report on the state of hunger in the city and the growing disparity between low-income New Yorkers and New York City’s professional class. The report refers to this disparity as the food “haves” and “have nots.” The report, “NYC Hunger Experience 2012: One City, Two Realities,” was released Tuesday at the 21st annual Agency Conference.

The New York Non-Profit Press summarized the key findings:

Almost one in three New York City residents – 32% — experienced difficulty affording the food they need in 2012. Even more households with children — 39% — faced similar problems. These were among the findings contained in “NYC Hunger Experience 2012: One City, Two Realities”, a new report published this morning by The Food Bank For New York City. The report is based on telephone interviews conducted by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion.

Although the percentage of New York City residents having difficulty affording food has dropped since the height of the recession in 2008, when it stood at 48%, it has yet to decrease to the level in where it was — 25% — when the first of these annual polls was conducted in 2003.

To cope with food affordability challenges, almost one in three New York City residents (30%) purchased less food to save money, down from almost two in five (38%) in 2011; and almost one in five residents (17%) purchased less healthy food, down from one in five (20%) in 2011. Almost one in three New York City residents (32%) ate smaller meals; almost one in four (22%) ate meals at friends’ or relatives’ homes; more than one in six (17%) skipped meals; almost one in six (1%) eliminated holiday meals or Sunday dinners; and more than one in ten (13%) served fewer family members at mealtime.

The Food Back Report concludes with following plea:

[T]his research makes clear that nutrition assistance programs alone are not a sustainable solution to the food affordability problem in New York City. The costs of housing, transportation and healthcare for many New Yorkers are measured not only in dollars but in nutrition. Against the costs of measures to protect and expand affordable housing and healthcare are the external benefits of enabling New Yorkers to continue to afford food. In addition, creation of living-wage jobs will do much to erase the gap between New York City’s food ―haves and ―have-nots.

What? It should come as no surprise that one of the most regulated cities in America is also a city suffering from the type of price inflation that actually hurts the poor. It seems odd that no one is thinking about how heavily regulated real estate markets (including rent control and zoning laws), the taxes and fees related to food sales, the heavily regulated transportation sector, cumbersome labor laws, the power of labor unions, the minimum wage, the economics of gentrification, food preferences, the segmenting of crime, and so on, all negatively affect the poor in the long-run.

In fact, the attempts to make New York City more “affordable” for “the poor,” as well as attempts to “erase the gap” through expanded government interference into the choices and preferences of “the poor,” are the very same policies that are hurting the poor in the New York City right now. One of the most important exploratory questions would be to ask what regulations are involved in the pricing of housing, transportation, health care, and the like, that are putting low-income residents in the position to trade-off food for rent.

To the surprise of many, this can all be traced to one significant culprit: New City government regulations. Over the years, the incentives for an efficient New York City economy, one that is mutually beneficial for all residents, has been perverted by politics. Sadly, those who benefit from the decisions of New York’s political elites the most are those who need the help the least.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.