US teens often forced to trade sex work for food, study finds

By  Reuters

Teenagers in America are resorting to sex work because they cannot afford food, according to a study that suggests widespread hunger in the world’s wealthiest country.

Focus groups in all 10 communities analyzed by the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, described girls “selling their body” or “sex for money” as a strategy to make ends meet. Boys desperate for food were said to go to extremes such as shoplifting and selling drugs.

The findings raise questions over the legacy of Bill Clinton’s landmark welfare-reform legislation 20 years ago as well as the spending priorities of Congress and the impact of slow wage growth. Evidence of teenage girls turning to “transactional dating” with older men is likely to cause particular alarm.

“I’ve been doing research in low-income communities for a long time, and I’ve written extensively about the experiences of women in high poverty communities and the risk of sexual exploitation, but this was new,” said Susan Popkin, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and lead author of the report, Impossible Choices.

“Even for me, who has been paying attention to this and has heard women tell their stories for a long time, the extent to which we were hearing about food being related to this vulnerability was new and shocking to me, and the level of desperation that it implies was really shocking to me. It’s a situation I think is just getting worse over time.”

The qualitative study, carried out in partnership with the food banks network Feeding America, created two focus groups – one male, one female – in each of 10 poor communities across the US. The locations included big cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington and rural North Carolina and eastern Oregon. A total of 193 participants aged 13 to 18 took part and were allowed to remain anonymous.

Their testimony paints a picture of teenagers – often overlooked by policymakers focused on children aged zero to five – missing meals, making sacrifices and going hungry, with worrying long-term consequences.

Popkin said: “We heard the same story everywhere, a really disturbing picture about hunger and food insecurity affecting the wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable young people. The fact that we heard it everywhere from kids in the same way tells us there’s a problem out there that we should be paying attention to.”

The consistency of the findings across gender, race and geography was a surprise.

“I wasn’t sure we would see it,” Popkin said. “Kids knew about all these strategies: hanging around your friend’s house and see if they’ll feed you, going hungry so that their younger brothers and sisters could eat, saving their school lunch so they could eat it at night so they could sleep at night.

“Everybody knew where you get the cheapest food and how you keep some emergency stuff in your house. It was just very matter-of-fact and very common, in the richest country in the world.”

In every community, and in 13 of the 20 focus groups, there were accounts of sexual exploitation, often related with distaste. A girl in Portland, Oregon told researchers: “It’s really like selling yourself. Like you’ll do whatever you need to do to get money or eat.”

Another comment from Portland: “You’re not even dating … they’ll be like … ‘I don’t really love him, but I’m going to do what I have to do.’”

Many prefer to rationalize what they are doing as dating of sorts. A boy in rural North Carolina said: “When you’re selling your body, it’s more in disguise. Like if I had sex with you, you have to buy me dinner tonight … that’s how girls deal with the struggle … That’s better than taking money because if they take money, they will be labeled a prostitute.”

In seven of the 10 communities, teenagers told stories of girls exchanging sexual favours with strangers or stripping for money in abandoned houses, at flea markets and on the street. A girl in San Diego, California, said: “Someone I knew dropped out of high school to make money for the family. She felt the need to step up. She started selling herself.”

Another girl in Chicago told researchers of an 11-year-old girl who dropped out of sixth grade to work in the sex trade, while boys in Los Angeles described how middle school girls put up flyers in public places to advertise their services.

In the communities with the highest poverty rates, both girls and boys steal food and other basics from local stores for themselves or their families. A male teenager in Chicago said: “I ain’t talking about robbing nobody. I’m just talking like going there and get what you need, just hurry up and walk out, which I do … They didn’t even know. If you need to do that, that’s what you got to do, that’s what you got to do.”

Some children begin stealing at the age of seven or eight, according to the focus groups. Boys mainly take items such as phones, shoes, jewelry and bikes.

Selling drugs is also common. One in Los Angeles said: “A lot of kids at a young age will sell drugs to get money for their families. People think it’s good but it messes you up.”

Popkin, who has been researching distressed public housing communities for more than 25 years, explained: “With the boys there was a lot of hustling and shoplifting or maybe stealing a car stereo or something small they could sell.

Getting pushed into drug dealing, sometimes getting pulled into gangs.

“I find it particularly disturbing that all the kids in almost every focus group were aware about what was happening to the girls – they knew the story about girls dating older guys or being exploited. The stories we heard were mostly about girls dating older men in order to get them to provide money for them for rent, for food, for clothes. They’re just very vulnerable.”

She added: “It’s a sexual exploitation. You hear about homeless teenagers engaging in transactional sex, you hear it about refugees. To hear it from stably housed kids in the United States is shocking and even if it’s only a handful of kids, it should be something that we’re paying attention to, that there are kids that desperate.”

Other key findings in the report include:

  • Teens feel a sense of shame around hunger and hide it. Many refuse to accept food or assistance in public settings or from people outside a trusted circle of friends and family.
  • Food-insecure teens think about how to mitigate their hunger and make food last longer for the whole family. They go to friends’ or relatives’ houses to eat and save their school lunch for the weekend.
  • Parents try to protect teens from hunger and from bearing responsibility for providing for themselves or others. However, teens routinely take on this role, going hungry so younger siblings can eat or finding ways to bring in food and money.
  • Teens would overwhelmingly prefer to earn money through a formal job but prospects for youth employment are extremely limited.
  • In a few communities, teens talked about going to jail or failing school as strategies for ensuring regular meals.

The report is not an attempt to provide national statistics but does cite research that estimates 6.8 million individuals aged 10 to 17 are in food-insecure households, including 2.9 million with very low food security.

The Urban Institute’s recommendations include improving the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; expanding access to school-based meals for teens in summer months and after classes; creating more and better youth job opportunities; establishing community projects, such as one that has proved successful in Portland; and helping rather than punishing girls who are sexually exploited.

Popkin said: “I think one of the things we see, particularly around girls, is that if they get caught up in the criminal justice system, they get treated as status offenders, so they get arrested and they get put in the system instead of receiving the help and support they should be having for being exploited.

“One of the policy changes we advocate for in the report is a real shift in the perspective and getting kids help and support instead of a criminal record.”

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A rape a minute, a thousand corpses a year

One In Five American Children Go Hungry and are Malnourished

By , Forbes

The U.S. faces a child hunger problem of massive proportions. Advocacy groups repeat over and over that 16.2 million children (one in five) “struggle with hunger in the United States.” 

While the Super Committee stalemates, Congress debates whether pizzas should be counted as a vegetable in school lunch programs. The Occupy Wall Street crowd deplores childhood hunger as “violence against children.” Liberals complain that Rush Limbaugh jokes about childhood poverty. Sinister pizza, cola, and salt lobbyists block valiant efforts to make school lunches healthier.

  • 18% of American children – some 13.3 million – were living in poverty in 2016, making up almost a third of the total poor;
  • more than one in five homeless people are children, including 1.3 million school students who were without a home during the academic year;
  • infant mortality, at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is almost 50% higher than other advanced nations;
  • the US ranks 25th out of 29 industrialized countries in terms of the amount it invests in young children.

Profitable multinational corporations receive three times as much welfare from the federal government as poor people do. Profitable corporations get $170b in handouts each year from our taxes, think about that for a second.

Public food stamps and school free lunch programs are colossal failures.  Despite their wide reach into poor communities, they apparently leave more than thirty percent of school children “struggling with hunger.”

The official arbiter of family nutrition is the U. S. Department of Agriculture. Its annual survey classifies families as “food secure”, “food insecure”, and “very low food secure.” It publishes no direct measure of “hunger,” only of what it calls “food security.” The details of the survey are found in the statistical appendix to the annual survey – a document that few read.

“One in five children are going to bed hungry in this country every night. That is a crime. That is a crime in this country” said Bob Beckel, Fox News commentator and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Carter administration. 

13 million kids in America aren’t getting the food they need
By No Kid Hungry

48.8 million Americans—including 13 million children— live in households that lack the means to get enough nutritious food on a regular basis. As a result, they struggle with hunger at some time during the year.

Food-Insecure Families

Food insecurity—the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe food— exists in 17.2 million households in America, 3.9 million of them with children.

Rates of food insecurity are substantially higher than the national average among households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, among households with children headed by single parents (35.1% of female-headed households with children are food-insecure) and among Black and Hispanic households.

Food insecurity is most common in large cities but still exists in rural areas, suburbs and other outlying areas around large cities

− 25 % of households with children living in large cities are food-insecure.

The typical (median) food-secure household spent 27 percent more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition.

59% of food-insecure households reported that in the previous month they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs: SNAP (formerly food stamps), School Lunch and WIC.

Shocking Need: American Kids Go Hungry
By Kimberly Brow, ABC News

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Child homelessness in U.S. hit all-time high in recent years, new report says

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Child homelessness in U.S. hit all-time high in recent years, new report says

Philip Alston, who acts as the UN’s watchdog on poverty and inequality around the world, spells out in blunt and unremitting terms the damage wrought by child poverty in one of the world’s richest countries. In his findings on conditions in the US, he highlights the personal suffering of millions of children who are left without food, homes and futures.

  • 18% of American children – some 13.3 million – were living in poverty in 2016, making up almost a third of the total poor;
  • more than one in five homeless people are children, including 1.3 million school students who were without a home during the academic year;
  • infant mortality, at 5.8 deaths per 1,000 live births, is almost 50% higher than other advanced nations;
  • the US ranks 25th out of 29 industrialized countries in terms of the amount it invests in young children.

Related: One In Five American Children Go Hungry and are Malnourished

A new report by Save the Children on the US finds that children in America are at least twice as likely to be poor as children in Norway, Iceland, Slovenia, Ireland, Sweden and Germany. That disparity rises to more than five times as likely to be poor when compared to children in Finland and Denmark.

Related: US teens often forced to trade sex work for food, study finds

One of the most insidious aspects of poverty among the under-18s is how it eviscerates individuals’ prospects of advancement, and thus undercuts one of the main glues of American society – the almost universally shared belief in the “American dream” of an equal opportunity to achieve success through hard work and aspiration. Alston points out that the US has one of the lowest rates of social mobility between generations of any rich country – not least because child poverty is so prevalent.

Save the Children works with Mississippi children to try to improve literacy rates. They have found that by the time they start kindergarten at age four, many kids are already 18 months behind the national average educational ability.

Titled “America’s Youngest Outcasts,” the report issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness calculates that nearly 2.5 million American children were homeless at some point. The number is based on the Education Department’s latest count of 1.3 million homeless children in public schools, supplemented by estimates of homeless preschool children not counted by the agency.

The problem is particularly severe in California, which has about one-eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children, totaling nearly 527,000.

Carmela DeCandia, director of the national center and a ­co-author of the report, noted that the federal government has made progress in reducing homelessness among veterans and chronically homeless adults

“The same level of attention and resources has not been targeted to help families and children,” she said. “As a society, we’re going to pay a high price, in human and economic terms.”

Child homelessness increased by 8 percent nationally from 2017 to 2018, according to the report, which warned of potentially devastating effects on children’s educational, emotional and social development, as well as on their parents’ health, employment prospects and parenting abilities.

The report included a composite index that ranked the states on the extent of child homelessness, efforts to combat it and the overall level of child well-being. States with the highest scores were Minnesota, Nebraska and Massachusetts. At the bottom were Alabama, Mississippi and California.

California’s poor ranking did not surprise Shahera Hyatt, director of the California Homeless Youth Project. The crux of the problem, she said, is the state’s high cost of living, coupled with insufficient affordable housing.

“People think, ‘Of course we are not letting children and families be homeless,’ so there’s a lot of disbelief,” Hyatt said. “California has not invested in this issue.”

Hyatt, 29, was homeless on and off throughout adolescence, starting when her parents were evicted when she was in seventh grade. At 15, she and her older brother took off and survived by sleeping in acquaintances’ basements, back yards and tool sheds.

“These terms like ‘couch surfing’ and ‘doubled-up’ sound a lot more polite than they are in practice,” she said. “For teenagers, it might be exchanging sex for a place to stay or staying someplace that does not feel safe, because they are so mired in their day-to-day survival needs.”

Near San Francisco, Gina Cooper and her son, then 12, had to vacate their home in 2016 when her wages of less than $10 an hour became insufficient to pay the rent. After a few months as nomads, they found shelter and support with Home & Hope, an interfaith program in Burlingame, Calif., and stayed there five months before Cooper, 44, saved enough to afford housing on her own.

“It was a painful time for my son,” Cooper said. “On the way to school, he would be crying, ‘I hate this.’ ”

In mostly affluent Santa Barbara, Calif., the Transition House homeless shelter is kept busy with families unable to afford their own housing. Executive Director Kathleen Baushke said that even after her staff members give clients money for security deposits and rent, they go months without finding a place to live.

“Landlords aren’t desperate,” she said. “They won’t put a family of four in a two-bedroom place because they can find a single professional who will take it.”

She said neither federal nor state housing assistance nor incentives for developers to create low-income housing have kept pace with demand.

“We need more affordable housing or we need to pay people $25 an hour,” she said. “The minimum wage isn’t cutting it.”

Among the residents at Transition House are Anthony Flippen, Savannah Austin and their 2-year-old son, Anthony Jr.

Flippen, 28, said he lost his job and turned to Transition House as his unemployment insurance ran out. The couple has been on a list to qualify for subsidized housing since 2008, but they are not counting on that option and hope to save enough to rent on their own now that Flippen is back at work as an electrician.

Austin, due to have a second child in December, is grateful for the shelter’s support but said its rules have been challenging. With her son in tow, she was expected to vacate the premises each morning by 8 a.m. and not return before 5 p.m.

“I’d go to the park or drive around,” she said. “It was kind of hard.”

The report by National Center on Family Homelessness — part of the private, nonprofit American Institutes for Research — says remedies for child homelessness should include an expansion of affordable housing, education and employment opportunities for homeless parents, and specialized services for the many mothers rendered homeless because of domestic violence.

Efforts to obtain more resources to combat child homelessness are complicated by debate over how to quantify it.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts an annual one-day count of homeless people that encompasses shelters, as well as parks, underpasses, vacant lots and other locales. Its latest count, for a single night in January 2013, tallied 610,042 homeless people, including 130,515 children.

Defenders of HUD’s method say it is useful in identifying the homeless people most in need of urgent assistance. Critics contend that HUD’s method grossly underestimates the extent of child homelessness and results in inadequate resources for local governments to combat it. They prefer the Education Department’s method that includes homeless families that are staying in cheap motels or doubling up temporarily in the homes of friends or relatives.

“Fixing the problem starts with adopting an honest definition,” said Bruce Lesley, president of the nonprofit First Focus Campaign for Children. “Right now, these kids are sort of left out there by themselves.”

Lesley’s group and some allies have endorsed a bill introduced in Congress, with bipartisan sponsorship, that would expand HUD’s definition to correlate more closely with the one used by the Education Department. However, the bill does not propose any new spending for the hundreds of thousands of children who would be added to the HUD tally.

Hyatt, of the California Homeless Youth Project, says most of the homeless schoolchildren in her state are not living in shelters.

“It’s often one family living in extreme poverty going to live with another family that was already in extreme poverty,” she said. “Kids have slept in closets and kitchens and bathrooms and other parts of the house that have not been meant for sleeping.”

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Woman arrested in prostitution sting offered sex act for Taco Bell

One In Five American Children Go Hungry and are Malnourished

War on Poverty FAILURE

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40% of homeless have jobs – vets homeless too

NCTSN

National Children’s Alliance

Kempe Center

APSAC

AACAP

National Children’s Advocacy Center

Shocking Need: American Kids Go Hungry
By Kimberly Brow, ABC News

Click here for full coverage of Hunger at Home: Crisis in America

Donate here: Feeding America