Alongside natural disaster, a very real human disaster looms.
The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has wrought havoc on sea and on land. But attention is now turning to the long-term effects the disaster will have on the coastlines, on businesses, and on American men, women and children.
While all of the ripple effects are yet to be determined, one thing we know for certain is that unemployment will rise in the area. We can already see that consumer confidence is faltering in the affected regions, damaging an already-marginal economy. Grocers in coastal communities are reporting a recent drop in sales between 10 and 25 percent, everywhere from Destin, Florida to Gulf Shores, Alabama. This is likely mirrored by a reduction in money spent in restaurants, condominium and hotel rentals. In turn, working shifts for employees in the service industry will be reduced, and the vitality of small businesses will be threatened.
As a result, many people along the Gulf Coast will turn to their local charitable feeding agencies for help. And we'll be there for them, offering food and hope as they seek stable footing. Soup kitchens and food pantries served by our members are already seeing a marked increase in requests for assistance.
But we're not just looking at a short-term problem here. There is ample evidence that shows the economic aftershocks of a crisis such as this one push struggling communities into even deeper poverty. According to the Brookings Institute, Katrina cost the nation $130 billion dollars in physical damages and lost productivity and the economic disruption caused by the oil spill will likely be more severe.
All of this is occurring on top of an already-dramatic situation: the latest research from the USDA shows that 49 million Americans faced hunger in 2008. The actual number today is likely much higher, given the spiraling economy and rising unemployment that has occurred since those numbers were tabulated. These are tough times for many, and there will be many more joining those ranks in the weeks and months ahead.
The immediate effects of the oil spill are obvious. Others, like its effects on American families, will be hard to measure and will take years to document.