Growth of Grandfamilies Leads to Food Insecurity

By Goyer, Amy | Aging Today, May/June 2012 | Go to article overview

Growth of Grandfamilies Leads to Food Insecurity

Goyer, Amy, Aging Today

Growing numbers of grandparents in the United States are raising grandchildren, which can bring extra financial challenges and food insecurity (limited or uncertain access to food) to the entire family.

According to the U.S. Census, more than 2.5 million grandparents in America are householders responsible for grandchildren who live with them, and almost 20 percent are living in poverty. More than a third of these households have no parents present. A recent AARP survey ( parent-roles-survey-amy-goyer/) found about one in ten grandparents have grandchildren living in the home, and 43 percent of those indicate they are the primary caregiver for at least one grandchild. Thirteen percent of Hispanic grandparents live with grandchildren, and nearly two in ten African American grandparents live with grandchildren.

There has been an increase in these "grandfamilies" over the past decade-the 2000 U.S. Census found 4.5 million children living in grandparent-headed households; by 2010 that number rose to almost 5 million children. These grand-families are here to stay-many grandparents are primary caregivers for significant periods of time. In the AARP survey, half of the grandparents who are primary caregivers said they have been in that role for five years or more.

The High Cost of Caring for Kids

Many grandparents lose or quit jobs to care for grandchildren, and they incur increased basic expenses such as housing, healthcare, clothing, school expenses, childcare and food. Raising children is costly. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports the cost of raising a child went up 40 percent from 2001 to 2011. And while costs vary dependent upon geography, income and the number of children, they are significant and add up over time. Many grandparents end up spending down retirement savings, and for those on a limited income, raising grandchildren can push these elders into poverty.

Too many of these grandfamilies are going hungry, too, with the older adults suffering physical and mental health consequences including diabetes, depression-even malnutrition. According to Feeding America, more than one in six children lives in a household with food insecurity, which can lead to adverse health, growth and developmental outcomes.

The following are some recent findings related to food insecurity:

* in 2001-2009, the number of people ages 50 and older struggling with hunger rose by almost 80 percent, with nearly 9 million older Americans at risk of hunger today;

* in August 2011, new research from AARP Foundation found that from 2007 to 2009, the number of those ages 50 to 59 who were at risk of hunger increased 38 percent, to nearly 4.9 million; and

* among the most at risk for hunger are older adults living with a grandchild (the average age of a grandparent raising grandchildren is 57, so many grandparent caregivers fall into this category-too young to qualify for Social Security or Medicare, and either unaware of available assistance, or with incomes is too high to qualify for it, but too low to make ends meet).

Targeting Efforts Crucial to Reach Grandfamilies

As a nation, how are we helping these at-risk grandfamilies fight poverty and hunger? There are myriad local, state and federal programs providing financial assistance and feeding people. But while many programs target outreach to older adults or to children, few focus on these combined populations.

That's where the network of local grandparent support groups, resource centers, statewide coalition efforts and national organizations comes in. Such groups are run by USDA Extension services, universities, area agencies and local departments on aging, children's and human services agencies, faith-based communities and a range of community organizations. They provide everything from education, and social and emotional support to legal assistance, and they often incorporate public benefits outreach to connect grandfamilies with financial assistance, medical care, home energy supports and nutrition assistance. …

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