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Hunger, Food Insecurity Cost The Country $167 Billion Every Year: Study

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While the wealthiest people in the U.S. continue to pull further and further ahead of the rest of society, the Great Recession has left millions out of work and even more living in poverty.

Indeed, nearly one in six Americans are struggling to get enough to eat. And that has placed an ever-growing number of people in the precarious position of being "food insecure," in turn costing the U.S. economy roughly $167 billion annually in a variety of ways, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

Some 48 million Americans do not enjoy that kind of security -- a number that has grown by 12 million since 2007, before the recession hit, and today includes more than 17 million children.

The Department of Agriculture considers a household "food secure" if all of its members "have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life."

The human cost of poverty and hunger is not difficult to visualize, but there are also more abstract costs. Rising rates of hunger and food insecurity are costing the American economy billions every year, according to the report, which argues that hunger has a widespread financial ripple effect.

Add up all the health-care bills and missed workdays that come as a result of food insecurity, as well as the charitable expenses that help keep hungry people from starving, and the tab starts to get high.

Take the lifelong lower earning power of high-school dropouts -- the report suggests that students who don't have enough food at home are at greater risk for leaving high school before getting a diploma -- and it's even higher -- a total of $167.5 billion in social costs according to the report. It comes to about $542 per person, the study found.

Hunger has become a pressing fact of life for so many people that Sesame Street is introducing a new muppet, named Lily, whose family often struggles to put food on the table.

These findings echo another CAP report, from 2007, which argued that childhood poverty in the U.S. costs the country about $500 billion every year. Those costs may have since increased, since the number of children living in poverty rose by about 5 percent in the last five years.

Rising poverty is taking place against a backdrop of growing income inequality -- the ongoing, decades-long trend whereby the richest Americans continue to earn more and more while lower- and middle-class Americans see their wages stagnate and the value of their homes decline.

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