More American Kids Forced to Eat Free Meals at Schools

School kids

The worsening economy has forced millions of American school kids to avail low-cost or free meals at school. Even middle class families are affected as parents have lost home or jobs recently. Last year, 21 million students received subsidized lunches at school, up from 18 million in 2007. States like Tennessee, New Jersey, Nevada and Florida saw 25% increases in children opting for subsidized school meals.

Economic Blues
Economists say these large increases reflect the hardships faced by many American families. In North Carolina, there have been layoffs at paper and lumber mills, driving hundreds of students to opt for the free lunch program. Las Vegas has been impacted by the construction industry collapse, forcing 15,000 students to eat subsidized lunch at school. In New York state, even well-qualified technicians and engineers are out of jobs as many companies have downsized recently. These erstwhile middle-class parents have been forced to enroll their children for free lunch, but they have requested school officials not to reveal this to others.

Eligibility Criteria
Families of four that earn up to $29,055 a year can enroll their kids for free school meals. Those with income up to $41,348 are eligible for subsidized lunch costing 40 cents. The Department of Education reveals that 52% of fourth graders have opted for free lunch, up from 49% in 2009. In Georgia, a group of schools has reported that 63% of their students eat free lunch at school. Experts are shocked because even well-off families are now at the receiving end and have become eligible for the lunch program.

Penny Pinching to Save Costs
Even middle-class families are affected when a parent loses his/her job. They have resorted to penny pinching by cutting down on entertainment expenses, buying used clothes from thrift stores and enrolling their children for subsidized school lunch. More families are also using food stamps to get by.

Boom in Enrollment
The US school lunch program costs $10.8 billion and provides 21 million subsidized or free meals. All 50 states in the US have reported increases in this program. In Florida, 265,000 students have enrolled for subsidies since 2007. In Tennessee, the enrollment growth rate is 37% since 2007. Unfortunate events like factory closures trigger big increases. Cities like Las Vegas have been forced to expand their central kitchen and add extra shifts to prepare lunches for thousands of newly enrolled kids.

Worst Situation in History
Suburban America, once a dream location for every yuppie, has not been spared. In suburban St. Paul, 44% of students have opted for subsidized lunch, up from 29% in 2007. Many parents say they never dreamt of the day this school program would apply to their kids. In Chicago, Newark and Dallas, 85% of school kids have become eligible for subsidized lunches. Some schools also offer free breakfast and supper to ensure needy students do not go hungry. Many economists and nutrition experts say the current situation is the worst they have ever seen.

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