Friday, April 4, 2014

Is Food In America Cheap?

Perhaps you have read, as I have on several occasions, that in the USA, "food is cheap". At least compared with both our nation's past and to other nations when we look at what percentage of Americans' household expenditures pay for food.

According to the latest numbers from the USDA, Americans spend about 10% of our disposable income on food, and this is the lowest in the world. If you do your own Google image search for "percent of disposable income spent on food by country" you can find lots of similar charts such as this one from the Economist and articles with data from the last few years repeating similar data.

When I do the math based on Americans spending 10% of disposable income on groceries, I find that an individual with an annual gross income of $30K (twice minimum wage) is spending about $40/week on food - which seems barely manageable, even for just one person.

Also according to the US Department of Agriculture, an American family of 4 must spend between $147 and $289 per week on food to meet basic dietary requirements for good health. That seems about right since I have a family of 4 and we spend about $150 per week on food. I've tried to get it below that, but I can't without resorting to buying junk food instead of healthy food.

With a weekly grocery bill of at least $147 a family of 4 that spends that as 10% of their disposable income on food must have a gross income of more than $90,000 - that's a hell of a lot higher than the median gross income of just below $70K for an American family of 4.

Additionally, median incomes only can tell us so much when income disparity in America is so pronounced. 15% of Americans live in poverty (that same percentage, according to the USDA, received food assistance through SNAP in 2013.) Many more live in the gap between being eligible for government food assistance and actually earning enough to be spending merely 10% of disposable income on adequate nutrition.

The reality is, many American families are being forced to choose between adequate nutrition and junk food, or worse yet, between food and other expenses, such as heat. Or student loans, as millions of borrowers are now in deferment for financial hardship or default.

So regarding this claim that American food is cheap, what gives? Because it seems to me that in reality, either food is too expensive, or... ooooooooh. Wages for most Americans are just too low.

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