Increasing Numbers of Children Qualify for Free School Lunch

School NutritionDespite modest improvement in the economy, unemployment is staying steady.  The continued lack of income for many families means that increasing numbers of children qualify for free and reduced-price school lunch.

An astonishing 52% of children in the fourth grade (mostly kids aged nine and ten) qualified for the subsidized meals under the National School Lunch Program.

Children in a family of four with an income up to $29,055 qualify for free school lunches.  Children in a family of four with an income up to $41,348 qualify for reduced-price school lunches, which cost forty cents.

When the school lunch program was started after World War II, it was in response to the large numbers of young men who showed up malnourished and unable to fight.  By 1970, 22 million lunches were being served in the nation’s schools and about 20%, or about 4.4 million, of those were subsidized.

In 2007, 18 million lunches were free or reduced-price.

In 2010, 32 million lunches were being served and about 21 million (66%) subsidized.

The New York Times has an interactive map showing the rates of increase in subsidized lunches from 2007 to 2011 and the percent of fourth-graders eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches in 2011.

More than 60% of fourth-grade children (mostly nine and ten years old) in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida are eligible.  New Hampshire had the lowest percentage, with a mere 27% of schoolchildren eligible, followed by Massachusetts at 33%.

That’s a lot of struggling families.  A lot of these people were recently middle class.  With a recent study indicating that school lunch improves health outcomes, it’s an investment in our future that’s worth making.

School Lunch photo via Shutterstock.

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