The holiday season is upon us and as we gather together to exchange gifts and enjoy each other's company, it's worth remembering that there are many in America who don't share the same kind of abundance.
While unemployment may be at a record low, statistics from Feeding America currently show that over 40 million Americans struggle with food insecurity and 12.3 percent of the U.S. population are currently living in poverty. Nearly 554,000 people - many of whom are children - were homeless at one point in January 2017. Seeing these kind of numbers appear in the world's wealthiest nation can be frustrating and a bit overwhelming, making it difficult to decide how to best direct your resources when giving to charity.
In an effort to inspire goodwill toward the less fortunate, the personal finance website WalletHub looked at more than 180 cities across the country, comparing them across 27 key indicators of economic disadvantage, such as child poverty, food insecurity, and uninsured rates. That resulted in a ranking of America's neediest cities in 2018.
Detroit, MI ended up as number one for the neediest cities in America according to WalletHub's survey. The Motor City had the highest adult poverty rate in the country and was in a three-way tie for having the highest child poverty rate along with Rochester, NY and Cleveland, OH. Detroit also ranked third in the nation for having inadequate plumbing, which is crucial for maintaining health standards.
Cleveland, OH, Newark, NJ, Memphis, TN and Los Angeles, CA rounded out the top five neediest cities, with Los Angeles having a high percentage of homes with inadequate kitchens.
Incredibly, there was a six-way tie for the highest homelessness rate, with Honolulu, HI, Fresno, CA, Washington D.C., Boston, MA, New York, NY, and San Francisco, CA all having high incidences of people living on the street.
Food insecurity was a big concern for residents in St. Louis, MI, New Orleans, LA, and Augusta, GA.
The statistics tell a larger story, according to Dr. Suzanne Wenzel, who says the problem of food insecurity and increasing poverty isn't a recent problem.
"Let’s go all the way back to the early and mid-1980s, when cities began seeing increasing numbers of people seeking help at shelters and soup kitchens – these people included families and working-age people," said Wenzel. "These increases occurred in association with an economic recession that began around 1980, and losses in well-paying “blue collar” manufacturing jobs and decreases in personal income, as well as decreases in affordable housing."
Dr. Wenzel points out that one key challenge for many living in poverty is affordable housing - especially in places like California.
"For low-income families, finding and maintaining stable housing is an issue. When cost of living and specifically cost of housing is factored in, the poverty rate in California is around 20%," Wenzel said. "Incomes have generally not kept up with housing costs across the country."
"We heard a lot about the widening gap between those at the bottom of the economic/wealth ladder and those at the top during the last presidential campaign – it’s not just campaign rhetoric, it’s a fact, and it’s harmful," said Wenzel."
Because there is so much need out there, experts recommend people should research any charity they plan on making a donation to. Jessica Word, the Academic Director of Nonprofit Community & Leadership Initiative, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says those charities you have a personal connection with are generally the best.
"This could be either through past experience with the organization as a volunteer or just based on its reputation in the community," said Word. "In part, the personal connection is usually a good way to make sure you are giving to something meaningful to you and it could also help guard against giving to a fraudulent organization."
Photo: WalletHub, Unsplash