The Food Problem and Income Adequacy

Flora Williams, Purdue University
ABSTRACT - "Having enough food" was examined among 1275 urban families for relationships with income measures, family types, financial problems, and social processes. Ten percent "often" had this problem and 58 percent "never" had it. Of those with income comparable to food stamp eligibility, 42 percent "often" or "sometimes" did not have enough food. Associated were income measures, financial problems, ethnicity, years of family formation, husband's and oldest child's ages, husband's occupation, single parent status, SES, and who handles money.
[ to cite ]:
Flora Williams (1976) ,"The Food Problem and Income Adequacy", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 03, eds. Beverlee B. Anderson, Cincinnati, OH : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 238-245.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 3, 1976      Pages 238-245

THE FOOD PROBLEM AND INCOME ADEQUACY

Flora Williams, Purdue University

[This study contributes to inter-regional Agricultural Experiment Station research project NC-90, "Factors Affecting Patterns of Living of Disadvantaged Families." Cooperating states: California, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin. Journal Paper No. 6002, Purdue Agricultural Experiment Station, West Lafayette, Indiana, 47907.]

ABSTRACT -

"Having enough food" was examined among 1275 urban families for relationships with income measures, family types, financial problems, and social processes. Ten percent "often" had this problem and 58 percent "never" had it. Of those with income comparable to food stamp eligibility, 42 percent "often" or "sometimes" did not have enough food. Associated were income measures, financial problems, ethnicity, years of family formation, husband's and oldest child's ages, husband's occupation, single parent status, SES, and who handles money.

THE FOOD PROBLEM AND INCOME ADEQUACY

The current economic condition of recession and greatly increased prices has brought attention to the most critical of consumer products - our daily food. Currently there is national discussion over the income measure used for determining food stamp eligibility, benefits, and poverty line. The official government poverty line and food stamp benefits are based on the cost of a minimal diet assuming one third of the income is spent for food. The availability of food stamps for eligible consumers has been required since 1974. The problem of enough food is considered the first to solve in the poverty cycle in order that consumers can continue to live, learn, produce, earn, and overcome other barriers to obtain well-being.

Many assumptions have been accepted in establishing the specific food plan for the basis of the poverty line and the maximum income and assets used for determining eligibility for food stamps. The poverty line and maximum income have been taken as "givens" but this study addresses these measures directly. The frequency of the food problem for consumers under the poverty line and those eligible for food stamps needs to be examined for further questioning those assumptions. How frequently do consumers have the problem of not enough food until there is money to buy more? Are there factors related to the food problem other than income; and which measure of income would be most appropriate for analyzing the food problem? What types of consumers have the food problem and, if they do, what other financial problems are also likely to be present?

Most households' eligibility is based on maximum levels of money income. If the asset limitations ($1500 of countable resources of all members if under age 60) were used on the basis for eligibility, perhaps 15 or 20 percent additional households would be disqualified. "The assets maximums apply to households of every size, but net income maximums increase with household size to register rising household needs" (MacDonald, 1975, p.4).

Income maximums for food stamp eligibility are based on household net income, which is total money income less ten percent from wages or salaries not to exceed $30 a month, mandatory deductions from earnings, medical expenses exceeding $10 a month, child care payments if permitting a member to be employed, tuition and mandatory education fees, and "excess shelter costs" exceeding 30 percent of the net income remaining after other deductions.

Most AFDC recipients without earnings would be eligible as would, also, those with earnings when deductions are used to arrive at net income. A working father with three dependents, filing a joint income tax return with a $7200 gross earnings would have a net income less than the $6000 which was the annual maximum for a four-person household just by federal tax and Social Security withholdings being deducted (Bleckman, et al, 1974 p. 192). (This figure is comparable to the disposable money income figure used in this study.) The shelter deduction, in addition, could cause total money income to exceed net income by a substantial margin (Bickel and MacDonald, January 1975, p. 4).

The net income is considered to be a better indication of household well-being than gross income. Food stamp benefits, as well as eligibility, are determined by the net income instead of gross income so that special circumstances reflected in the deductions are considered (MacDonald, 1975, p.6).

MacDonald (1975, p.6) discussed the issue of which in-come-assets measure to use for eligibility: "Yet however desirable the extensive list of allowable deductions may be from an equity standpoint, a substantial portion of total program administrative costs is directly attributable to attendant complications for the benefit and eligibility determination process." He noted that considerable time is devoted to the calculation of net income and there is likelihood of payment errors when complicated calculations are necessary. Bickel and MacDonald (January 1975, p.5) report that there is no readily usable data for comparing the difference between census gross income and food stamp net income of low-income households.

Congressional proposals may be enacted which would revise the net income definition to incorporate a standard deduction from gross income. MacDonald found in his study (1975, 9.7) "that the food stamp net income eligibility standards are quite comparable to the gross income levels for 125 percent of the non-farm poverty line." In Projector and Weiss (1966, Table 39), the income level of $6400 per family of four which was 125 percent of the poverty line in 1974 dollars closely compared to the current food stamp net income standard of $6000 per four-person household (Bickel and MacDonald, January 1975, p. 35).

Eligibility for food stamps is based on current monthly incomes because of the fluctuating incomes among many low income households (which yields an estimated number actually higher than if annual income data were used). However, at higher income levels, income fluctuations are also prevalent and at the lowest incomes, many incomes are stable.

Food is only one of many pressing needs of low-income consumers. In addition to the food problem, the government has tried to alleviate several other financial problems such as housing and medical care. Consumers have a choice in the management of their resources to allocate income to those considered most pressing. MacDonald (1975, p.12) stated "the food stamp program could do eligibles no good if they chose not to earmark a sizable proportion of their budget for food because other, equally pressing needs might arise before they next received cash."

The objectives of this study were to

- determine the relationship of the food problem (not enough food) to income measures (objective and perceived), income dependability, and income source.

- compare relationships of the food problem with income index, disposable income, and net income, and perceived adequacy of income.

- identify the relative order of the food problem with other financial problems assuming the order depends on reported frequency based on which expenditures seem more pressing or have legal consequences in relation to others.

- determine the relationship of the food problem to other problems and to fixed commitments.

- determine the relationship of the food problem to demographic characteristics of consumers.

- examine the relationship between selected family processes and the food problem. Selected processes included: who decides the use of money, who handles the money, and the frequency of eating together as a family.

One hypothesis was that below a low income level, the food problem would not be related to variables other than objective measures of money income, but at higher income levels, other variables representing management and priorities would be related. Two-parent families within similar income categories were hypothesized to have more food problems than single-parent families, especially if most of the single parents received welfare payments and more stable incomes. Nonemployed wives would report less problems, it was hypothesized, because they might have more time to do careful shopping and food preparation than employed wives and nonemployed female heads of families. Language spoken, if other than English, was hypothesized to be a barrier to the absence of the food problem. The higher educated consumers and older consumers were hypothesized to have the food problem less frequently than others because of their abilities and experience. The income index, an objective measure of income adequacy, used for establishing poverty status, was hypothesized to be more related to the food problem than disposable income, net income, perceived adequacy of income, or income dependability because it was believed to be a more accurate measure of income adequacy.

Methodology

An interdisciplinary, regional research project, NC-90, entitled "Factors Affecting Patterns of Living in Disadvantaged Families" provided the data used for this study. The disciplines participating in the project were: rural and family sociology, child and educational psychology, economics, family economics, home management and child development. Thirteen state experiment stations were represented in the project. Members of the NC-90 committee developed the interview schedule and provided instructions in training interviews. Interviewers were indigenous to the six urban disadvantaged areas supplying data for this part of the study. Data were collected during 1970 and subsequently analyzed. Sufficient detail was obtained to calculate net income identical to that used for determining food stamp eligibility. Other than these data, there were no readily usable data in the country for comparing net income with other income measures.

Source of the Data

Data collected randomly from families in six metropolitan areas were analyzed for purposes of this study. The homemaker served as the respondent. Area samples were drawn by the Survey Section of the Iowa State University Statistical Laboratory for the studies in Indiana, Ohio, and Nevada. East Chicago, Indiana and Toledo, Ohio, families were selected from areas designated as poverty tracts by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census (1966). The population from which the Nevada sample was drawn consisted of families living in designated "low cost housing" areas as determined through the compilation of information by the City Planning Department of Las Vegas. Hawaii data were collected within eight census tracts in metropolitan Honolulu on the island of Oahu. In these tracts during the three year period of 1964-67, 40 percent or more of the families had an annual income of $3,000 or less. The Statistical Laboratory at the University of Illinois sampled a low income area based upon the assessed valuation of property in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. In Superior, Wisconsin the families were selected from an economically depressed area.

To be eligible for the personal interview, a family had to have at least one child under age 18 and a homemaker, either gainfully employed or not, between 18 and 64 years of age. Families varied widely in the distribution of income, education, number in family, ethnicity and frequency of the food problem.

Characteristics of the Sample

Although areas were considered disadvantaged, the majority of the families would not be classified as low income as defined by the Social Security Administration (Orshansky, 1969). However, the great majority would be classified as lower socio-economic classes. Characteristics of the families in this sample from metropolitan areas varied widely in other demographic characteristics. By ethnicity, 46 percent were white, 34 percent were black, 5 percent were oriental, 12 percent were Spanish-American, and 9 percent were of other ethnic origins. The mean total disposable income was $8,960.47. Twenty-two percent of the families in the sample had over $10,000 income. As defined by the Social Security Administration, 15 percent of the families were classified as below the poverty level (below 100 income index) and about ten percent were classified in the near-poverty level (between 100 and 125 income index). The mean number in the family was five. The mean age of the husband was 37. Median years of schooling completed for husband and wives was 10.8.

Data Analysis

Data from these six metropolitan areas were combined for analysis purposes. The number of families supplying usable data was 202 from Hawaii, 287 from Illinois, 193 from Indiana, 225 from Nevada, 170 from Ohio, and 208 from Wisconsin. In some analyses the number of cases was less when information was incomplete.

Initially, fine levels of income index were observed for determining any pattern of acute change in the food problem as income index increased. To control for the effect of income, additional analyses were made of families in various income groups.

Statistical tests for determining the associations and differences between frequency of the food problem and the selected variables were chi-square analysis and analysis of variance. The latter was used with data involving the food problem and income measures. The Pearson's product-moment correlation was used to examine the association of the score of the food problem frequency and other variables. The .05 level of significance was used to determine statistically significant differences and relationships.

Gamma, a measure of association for ordinal scales, was used to examine the association between frequency of the food problem and the frequency of each of the other financial problems. A gamma value of .4 would indicate that the predictability of one factor would be improved by 40 percent by observing another factor. A value of .35 for gamma was judged to be a significant association for this study.

Selected Variable Definitions

The food problem was one of 11 financial problem areas selected by the NC-90 committee after their review of literature and conjecture as those believed to be meaningful to families. The general question asked in the schedule was: "Aside from not having enough money, which of the following problems do you have and how often do you have this problem?" The specific question referred to "not enough food until there is money to buy more." "How often" was checked on the basis of the frequency never, seldom, sometimes, and often which were assigned scores of 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively, and treated as linear.

The food problem was examined in relation to the families' income index. The index is a measure of income adequacy based on the cost of food for a family considering its size, sex and age composition (Orshansky, 1969, p. 38). The cost of food was calculated from food plans developed by the United States Department of Agriculture. An income index of 100 represented money income of a family three times the cost of the "economy food plan." The amount of money allocated to food in the economy plan was "the minimum that the Agriculture Department said could still provide American families with an adequate diet." Less than one of ten families spending that amount or less were expected to have had good diets (Peterkin and Clark 1969, p. 8). A family with an income of less than or equal to 100 was classified as poor. An income index of 125 represented money income of a family three times the cost of the "low-cost food plan" an4 therefore, families with income indices of 100 to 125 were classified as near-poor. About three of ten families spending that amount were expected to have good diets. The income index (Orshansky, 1969) seemed to the researchers to be the most refined and reasonable measure of income adequacy to date that could be used in assessing the family's economic well-being.

Money income was the flow of purchasing power received by the family during the previous 12 months from economic activities (earned income), investment, social security, job related benefits, armed services insurance, welfare payments, and legal arrangements. Total disposable income consisted of total money income plus pay check deductions minus state and federal income taxes and Social Security contributions.

Net income was money income less ten percent from wages or salaries not to exceed $30 a month, mandatory deductions from earnings, medical expenses exceeding $10 a month, child care payments if permitting a member to be employed, tuition and mandatory education fees, and "excess shelter costs" exceeding 30 percent of the net income remaining after other deductions.

Perceived adequacy of income was assessed by asking the following question of the homemakers: "To what extent do you think your income is enough to live on?" Responses were: 1) not at all adequate, 2) can meet necessities only, 3) can afford some of the things we want but not all we want, 4) can afford about everything we want, and 5) can afford about everything we want and still save money.

Fluctuations in income have been found to play an important role in consumption behavior (Manning, 1960) but stronger evidence of that role is needed. Income dependability referred to the regularity with which income was received. The homemakers were questioned as to the dependability of income and their responses were compared with the actual receipt of income. The dependability of family income was classified as: 1)"not dependable" at all, if it never or seldom knew more than a month in advance how much it would have and when it would get any money income; 2) "fluctuating," if income varied in timing or amount or both; and 3) "steady," if income was dependable and stable.

Sources of income were categorized into 1) social security only, 2) welfare plus earnings, 3) welfare only, and 4) earnings and no welfare. Welfare sources included aid to the blind, aid to permanently and totally disabled, old age assistance, aid to families with dependent children, general assistance, and private agency. Earnings included sources of salary and wages, profits from business, bonuses and commissions, job related benefits, armed service benefits plus money from legal arrangements, gifts, and inheritances.

The percentage of income allocated to financial commitments were calculated from the "bills or expenses" the family was "supposed to meet regularly" including things they felt were "rather fixed, that they were obliged to or had promised to pay every week or month, or that were taken out of a paycheck."

Initially, languages were English, Spanish, French, Japanese, English plus another language, and others. For purposes of analysis, English, Spanish, English plus other, and other languages were compared.

The number of years the family had been formed was an indicator of the life cycle. The interviewer asked each respondent when the family was started, and then probed whether the number of years marked the beginning of married life, the birth of the first child, or when the oldest child came to live with the family. It was hypothesized that the longer the family had been established, the more experience it would have with handling money end managing the food problem.

Occupational levels of husbands and wives were initially classified 1) higher executive and professional, 2) business manager, 3) administrative personnel, 4) clerical and sales, 5) skilled, 6) semi-skilled, and 7) unskilled. However, classifications one through three were combined for purposes of analysis to meet criteria for cell size.

Employment status of women was analyzed by comparing female heads and wives who were employed and who were non-employed in these four classifications.

The respondent's education was reported on the questionnaire. Actual years of schooling were grouped into the usual classifications for analysis.

Family type was analyzed by the simple classification of two-parent family and one-parent family. In all cases the one-parent family had a female head.

Rather than relying on an existing scale, a question was developed which asked for the homemaker's perception of who (wife, husband, or husband and wife together) mainly decided "how the money is used." Another question was asked in order to identify the effective agent in the family who actually implements decisions. The item asked for the homemaker's perception of who (wife, husband, or husband and wife together) mainly handles money matters. Husband's presence during the wife's responses to these questions was viewed as a necessary preliminary measure.

FINDINGS

Data from the six areas were pooled for purposes of analysis. All areas were designated disadvantaged, located in central cities, and were sampled randomly. All together, 10 percent of the families often had the food problem and 58 percent never had the food problem. Even though the frequency of the food problem differed among states as shown in Table 1, most of the other variables selected for analysis were associated with the food problem when all the families were examined. Furthermore, for families with income index under 100 (poverty) or under 125 (near-poverty) the frequency of the food problem did not differ by the six areas.

TABLE 1

FREQUENCY OF THE PROBLEM "NOT ENOUGH FOOD" FOR FAMILIES BY STATE SAMPLE.

Measures of Income

Income index, an objective measure of income adequacy listed in Table 2, was associated with the frequency of the food problem (r = -.25, p < .01). For all families, income index increased as the frequency of the food problem decreased. This significant relationship remained in three of the six disposable income levels, less than $4000, $4000 through $5999, and $6000 through $7999. As shown in Table 3, some families often had the food problem at every index level, but a pattern is observed and a shift noted at the 150 income index bracket. Up until then "never" was reported less than would be expected and "seldom", "sometimes", and "often" were reported more than would be expected. Almost half of the families under 100 index and one-third of the families from i00 to 125 index "sometimes" or "often" had the food problem. Of those families with income comparable to that for food stamp eligibility, 42 percent "often" or "sometimes" did not have enough food. Analyzing the families another way as shown in Table 4, income index for those "never" having the problem was 205.66 While for those "often" was 143.41 and "sometimes" was 125.42.

TABLE 2

PEARSON'S PRODUCT-MOMENT CORRELATIONS OF FOOD PROBLEM AND INCOME MEASURES AT VARIOUS DISPOSABLE INCOME LEVELS.

TABLE 3

FREQUENCY OF THE FOOD PROBLEM AMONG ALL FAMILIES AT DIFFERENT INCOME LEVELS.

TABLE 4

ANOVA OF INCOME MEASURES BY FREQUENCY OF THE FOOD PROBLEM.

Disposable income was also associated with the frequency of the food problem (r = -.28, p <.0) for all families and those with income under$4000 (p <.05) (Table 2). However, by chi square analysis summarized in Table 5, disposable income was not significantly associated for families with income index under 125 and over 200. It was associated between the ten and five percent levels. The shift in the pattern of those never having the problem occurred at the $6000 bracket. About 60 percent of the families below $2000 and about half of the families with incomes from $2000 and $3000 had the food problem "sometimes" or "often" as shown in Table 6. Between $4000 and $5000, 36 percent had the problem "sometimes" or "often". A third had the problem with this frequency when incomes were between $5000 and $6000 and one-fourth had it with this frequency when incomes were between $6000 and $7000. The mean disposable income for families who "often" had the problem was $5701 and for families who "never had the problem was $8543. (Table 4).

Net income, the measure currently used for determining food stamp eligibility, was associated with the frequency of the food problem (r = -.25, p < .01) in the analysis for all families and for those with disposable incomes of $12,000 and above (Table 2). As a statistical measure net income did not explain variation in the food problem any better than other income measures. Results as shown in Tables 2 and 4 indicate net income was comparable to income index and disposable income as a statistical measure. The mean net income for families who "often" had the food problem was $5033 and for families who "never" had the problem was $7555 (Table 4). As observed in Table 6, the shift in the pattern of the occurrence of the food problem appeared at the $5000 bracket.

Perceived adequacy of income was associated with the food problem (r = -.34, p <.01) and this relationship remained in all the income index groups and most of the disposable income levels as observed in Table 2. Over half of the families who said their income was not adequate had the food problem "often" or "sometimes"; but 13 percent who said they could afford about everything had the problem "often" or "sometimes" (Table 6). The average perceived adequacy for those families who had the problem "often" was 2.53, between the responses of "could afford necessities only" and "could afford some luxuries."

Income dependability was associated with the food problem at the .001 level of significance for all families and those under 100 income index but at the .06 level and .07 level for families under 125 index and over 200 index, respectively (Table 5). Of all families with income assessed as "not dependable", 57 percent "often" or "sometimes" had the problem, whereas of those with steady income, 28 percent had it this frequently as figured from Table 6.

TABLE 5

SIGNIFICANCE LEVEL OF CHI-SQUARE OBTAINED FROM ANALYSES OF INCOME INDEX GROUPS BY SELECTED VARIABLES.

The frequency of the food problem was associated with the source of income except for families who had over 200 income index (p < .01)(Table 5). Of those families with only social security or welfare income, about two-thirds had the problem "sometimes" or "often" whereas almost one-half of those with welfare payments and earnings and one-fifth of those with earning but no welfare payments had the problems "sometimes" or "often"(Table 6).

Other Problems and Fixed Commitments

Other financial problems listed in Table 7, were found associated with the frequency of the food problem(p <.01) by chi square analysis. However, for families with income index under 100, the problems of doctor-medicine and savings were not found associated with frequency of food problem (Table 5). About one-half of the families who "often" had the food problem also "often" had the problems of kids' things, doctor or medicine, clothing, and savings; and about one-third also "often" had the problems of large bills and maintaining equipment. The range of gamma values indicated that when the food problem was observed, the prediction of the saving problem could be improved by 41 percent and of problems in kids' things, utilities, and clothing by 57 percent.

TABLE 6

FREQUENCY OF THE FOOD PROBLEM AMONG ALL FAMILIES AT DIFFERENT INCOME LEVELS AND RESULTS OF CHI-SQUARE TEST.

TABLE 7

FREQUENCY OF THE FOOD PROBLEM AMONG ALL FAMILIES BY FREQUENCY OF OTHER PROBLEMS AND RESULTS OF CHI-SQUARE TEST.

How does food expenditures rank in relation to other pressing needs for the allocation of income? If the assumption is held that the frequency of problems reported is inversely related to their perceived importance due to values or legal consequences, the following order might indicate the rank of pressing needs; utilities, rent or house payments, maintaining equipment, food, large bills, doctor and medicine, clothing and personal things, kids' things, and saving. That is, money may have been allocated to utilities first before other needs, and therefore, not allowed to become a problem. For these families, savings was reported by the greatest percentage of families because the other expenditures were taken care of before it.

Families with the greater percentage of income committed to fixed expenditures had a greater percentage reporting not enough food(p < .01) as observed in Table 8. Of families with less than 20 percent of disposable income committed to fixed expenditures, 70 percent "never" had the food problem. Of those with 80 percent or more committed, 42 percent "never" had it, and 41 percent "often" had it. Consider Orshansky's assumption that food is one-third of the budget for low-income families and add other fixed costs such as housing. Then the finding that the majority of families also had 20 percent or more of income committed to credit is revealing. Although the association of the food problem and fixed commitment was significant in general, it was not significant for families under 100 or under 125. Evidently, fixed commitments as a percentage of income and the food problem was highly associated for families between 125 and 200 income index.

TABLE 8

FREQUENCY OF THE FOOD PROBLEM AMONG ALL FAMILIES BY FREQUENCY OF FINANCIAL COMMITMENTS AS PERCENTAGE OF TOTAL FAMILY INCOME.

Demographic Characteristics

Most of the demographic characteristics selected for analysis were associated with the food problem at the .01 level (Table 5). Significant ones for all families are described in Table 9. Not associated were number of years family had been formed, age of oldest child, and husband's education. However, for families with income index under 125 the variables associated were ethnic status, number of years family had been formed, husbands age, husband's occupation, age of oldest child, employment status of homemaker (p (.07), family type, and socio-economic status. However, for families under 100 income index none of these were significant except family type which came close (p <.08). It was for families over 200 income index that ethnic status, language spoken, homemaker's occupation, homemaker's employment status husband's occupation, and homemaker's education were significant.

A greater percentage of Blacks and Spanish-Americans had the food problem than whites. Families of the youngest and the oldest husbands had a greater percentage of reporting the food problem than others. Homemakers in the professional and unskilled occupations had a greater percentage reporting the food problem than other employed homemakers. But this pattern was reversed for husband's occupation where a greater percentage of the skilled and semi-skilled husbands had the problem than others. Although a greater percentage of female heads, regardless of being employed or not, reported the food problem more than others, this relationship did not hold for homemakers with family income index under 100. A smaller percentage of all homemakers with eighth grade education or less reported the food problem than those with education beyond high school but this relationship did not hold for families under 100 and 125 income index. A greater percentage of one-parent families had the food problem than two-parent families. Of upper-middle class families, 74 percent reported never having the problem compared to 46 percent of the lowest class.

Social Processes

How frequently the family ate together was not associated with the frequency of the food problem. Altogether 83 percent said they often ate together, 10 percent said they sometimes did, six percent said they seldom did, and one percent said they never did.

Who decides the use of money was not associated with the money problem but who carries out the decisions or handles the money was for all families and for those under 125 income index. When both husband and wife handled the money, a greater percentage (12%) reported "often" than when either the wife alone or the husband alone (8%) handled the money as shown in Table 10. Altogether, 68 percent said both husband and wife decided the use of money, 17 percent said the husband did, and 15 percent said the wife did. In handling the money, 46 percent of the wives were reported as mainly responsible, 30 percent of both husbands and wives, and 24 percent of the husbands.

TABLE 9

FREQUENCY OF THE FOOD PROBLEM AMONG ALL FAMILIES BY SIGNIFICANT DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS AND RESULTS OF CHI-SQUARE.

TABLE 10

FREQUENCY OF THE FOOD PROBLEM AMONG ALL FAMILIES BY SIGNIFICANT SOCIAL PROCESSES AND RESULTS OF CHI-SQUARE.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

The problem of enough food was found significantly associated with income index, disposable income, net income, and perceived adequacy of income. Of these income measures, perceived adequacy had the highest association with the problem of "not enough food until there was money to buy more." Both perceived adequacy of income and enough food were subjective measures whereas the other measures were objective. By observing the perceived adequacy, the food problem could be better predicted by observing the other measures which were similar in their ability to explain variance in the food problems and to predict its occurrence.

Net income, the measure used currently for determining food stamp eligibility, was associated with the food problem but did no better in explaining variation or predicting the problem than did disposable income and income index which are easier measures to calculate than net income.

Families who never had the food problem were twice the poverty threshold (206 income index), had $8543 mean disposable income and had $7555 mean net income. These families on the average thought they could afford necessities only but not luxuries. Differences in means occurred for families who never had the problem and the other families. Fine distinctions of seldom, sometimes and often were not so helpful in establishing differences.

The findings offer some validation of the established poverty line. At income levels comparable to those at which public assistance was available, families in this study had problems of enough food until there was money to buy more. Almost half the poor families(income index under 100) and one third the near-poor families (income index of 100 through 124) had the food problem "often" or "sometimes". The average income index for those "never" having the problem was twice the poverty line (206) and for those "sometimes" having the problem it was at the near-poverty line(125). By the simple calculation of disposable income in $1000 levels the percentage of those who "often" or "sometimes" had the food problem was 59, 46, 41, 36, 33, 23, and 19 beginning with the under $1000 level to the $7000 and above level. Exactly 33 percent of the families reporting "often" or "sometimes" were at the 100-124 income index level which, for a family of four, was comparable to the $4000-4999 disposable income level where exactly 36 percent reported the problem this frequently.

Current benefits from food stamps are designed to enable a family to purchase the Economy Food Plan, although the estimated percentage getting an adequate diet on this Plan is very low. At the level of 100 income index which uses the cost of the Economy Plan in its calculation, 40 percent reported "sometimes" or "often" having enough food.

If families experienced the problem of not enough food they tended to experience other financial problems. Prediction of the food problem was increased about 50 percent by observing any one of the problems. About half the families who "often" had the problems of rent or house payment, utilities, or equipment maintenance, also "often" had the food problem. About half of the families who "often" had the food problem also "often" had problem of kids' things, doctor or medicine, clothing and personal care, and savings. Assuming money was allocated in order of the most pressing needs and, therefore, those needs were not allowed to become problems as much as other areas, the frequency of reported problems indicated their importance to these families. Having enough food was fourth following the more pressing needs of utilities, rent, and equipment maintenance but before the need to meet large bills, expenditures for doctor or medicine, clothing, kids' things, and saving. The families that had a greater percentage of income committed to credit had the greater percentage reporting the food problem.

The problem of enough food for families under 125 income index, comparable to those eligible for food stamps, was clearly associated with their perceived adequacy of income, objective adequacy of income (income index), net income, and source of income but not with disposable income or income dependability. Additional associations were all the other financial problems, ethnic status, number of years family had been formed, husband's age, oldest child's age, husband's occupation, family type, socio-economic status, and person mainly responsible for using the money. Not associated with frequency of the food problem were percent of income committed to fixed expenses, language spoken, homemaker's age, homemaker's occupation, husband's occupation, homemaker's education, husband's education, who mainly decides the use of money, and frequency of the family's eating together. Many of these variables were associated with the food problem for other income index groups.

Families that were over-represented in "often" having the food problem tended to have income indexes of under 150, disposable incomes of under $7000, perceived their income as not adequate or meeting necessities only, not dependable income, and income from only social security, welfare or welfare plus some earnings. They tended to be black or Spanish-American, one-parent families with a female head either employed or non-employed and in the lowest socio-economic class. In two-parent families, the husband tended to be under age 18 or over 55 and semi-skilled with both husband and wife handling the money.

Findings suggest that for lower-income families inadequate income, objective and perceived, caused the food problem but for higher income families such variables representing management and expectations as income dependability, percent of income committed to fixed expenses, language spoken, homemaker's and husband's occupations, women's responsibility as family head or wife, and homemaker's education was related to the food problem.

REFERENCES

Bleckman, B. M. et al. Setting National Priorities: The 1975 Budget.(Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institute 1974.)

Bickel, G. W. and MacDonald, M. Participation Rates in the Food Stamp Program: Estimated Levels, by State. (University of Wisconsin-Madison, January 1975)

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