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Many of us remember 2009 as being the year when the Great Recession hit major markets worldwide, cementing the fact that this wasn’t an isolated incident that would pass through. The world was hugely affected by these negative changes, and they’re still ones being felt today. But 2009 also marks when 17.4 million American families (about 15% of the population) didn’t have enough money to independently feed themselves, marking a really low point in our country’s recent history. Let’s take a look at why so many households went through such a tough time.

The Great Recession: Double Digit Unemployment

The National Bureau of Economic Research pegs the beginning of the Great Recession as the end of the 2007, coinciding with the housing and mortgage crisis caused by the burst of the housing bubble earlier that year. Although pages and pages can be devoted to what went wrong and why, the essence of it was that big financial players had the freedom to make risky decisions. And to use a popular saying, the house always wins.

There was no way the average American could afford to best huge banks at a game the latter were professionals at, and soon millions found themselves squeezed out of jobs they thought they would retire from. To put things into perspective, the poverty rate (less than $23,492 a year for a family of four) just before the Recession hit was a mere 12.5%. But following the Recession, the poverty rate soared when 31.6% of Americans reported to the U.S. Census Bureau that they’d experienced poverty for at least two months between 2009 to 2011.

But there’s a marked difference between poverty and unemployment, as the former at least gives you a fighting chance at avoiding the latter. Your job may not pay oodles and oodles of money, but it’s a little bit of a stepping-stone that can theoretically be leveraged to go higher. In October of 2009, the unemployment rate hit a Recession peak of 10%, with the net total of lost jobs amounting to 3.617. For a country with a population the size of ours, these figures may not seem like much in isolation, but when compared to 5% unemployed in December 2007, it’s a stark difference: the unemployment rate doubled.

Food Insecurity and Troubles with Finances

The term “food insecure” means having a tough time being able to feed yourself and your family members, whether it’s because you’re unemployed or employed at a job that simply doesn’t pay enough. We already took a look at how different aspects of living independently changed from 2008 to 2009, but one figure that remained roughly the same in that time period was food insecurity, meaning that the number of households having a tough time feeding their families didn’t really change.

That sounds fairly positive, until viewed in the light of context. Although the number of food insecure households remained steady, it was triple the number from 2006, which marked the last year before the Recession. The LA Times performed a survey of 46,000 families, asking questions such as if they were able to pay for balanced meals, if they skipped meals, or if they ran low on food and weren’t able to restock their pantries.

The USDA also announced its own figures: in August of 2009, 42.4 million Americans received food stamps, marking a 17% jump from the year before. And in reference to the subsidies available under the SNAP program, the amount also jumped a similar amount of 17.5% in July of 2009.

From 2000 to 2011, the economy changed dramatically and for the worst. We’re finally starting to show signs of improvement, albeit slowly. While this is encouraging, it does raise a question: have we learned from history, or are we doomed to repeat our mistakes again?

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