By one measure of “food security,” the new USDA hunger data released this week puts Oregon right in the middle of the pack. Its rate of food insecurity, is higher than the rest of the Northwest states, but only a little higher than the national average. Yet a closer look at the numbers reveals a more worrisome story.

Oregon’s rate of “very low food security” is the second highest in the nation—only Mississippi does worse—and is far beyond than anything else in the Northwest. Getting enough to eat is a serious problem for 6.6 percent of Oregon households—that’s roughly 1 in every 15. Here’s the official definition of very low food security:

The defining characteristic of very low food security is that, at times during the year, the food intake of household members is reduced and their normal eating patterns are disrupted because the household lacks money and other resources for food.

It’s a very troubling figure, though it’s consistent with what I remember seeing when I looked at these figures a few years back. (By contrast, the national rate of very low food security is only 4.6 percent—though it’s the highest in the 14 years since we’ve had consistent measurements. The rest of the Northwest states are clustered below the national average: Montana (4.4), Alaska (4.4), Washington (4.3), and Idaho (3.9).) It’s also broadly consistent with Oregon’s dire employment situation: the most recent federal figures put the state’s unemployment at 11.5 percent, 6th highest in the nation and much higher than anything else in the Northwest.

Let’s hope these new figures are enough to put a permanent end to the use of the incredibly grating neologism “funemployment.”  

Technical note: the margin of error for some states’ hunger rates is fairly high. It’s 1.14 for the rate of “very low food security” in Oregon, meaning there’s a 90 percent chance that the real rate of hunger in Oregon is between 5.46 and 7.74.