Why fancy cars at food banks?

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Question: 

Six thousand cars at a food bank in Texas? I live in a small town in Pennsylvania. and never, ever saw anybody drive to a food bank, they walk, get a ride or use a bicycle.
Q: Are these people in Texas living so far beyond their means that they have to go to a food bank because of the pandemic or are they taking advantage of the free food or ...? I just don't understand the fancy cars at a food bank--it doesn't make sense!

Answer: 

This is a very difficult question to answer but certainly an important one! Unfortunately, the pandemic has had some very sudden and very negative effects on our economy. Keep in mind that COVID was/is a very large shock that was also very unpredictable. 

Under normal circumstances (e.g. pre-pandemic) there is a significant proportion of the U.S. population on some form of federal food assistance (1 in 4 Americans!). Since COVID hit in mid-March, the number of households experiencing some form of food insecurity (e.g. not enough money to buy food, going without food) has increased from 11% pre-pandemic to roughly 25% post-pandemic.

The population that has become newly food insecure (due to the pandemic) probably looks a little different than the population that was food insecure prior to the pandemic. These are households that likely experienced severe negative income shocks due to unemployment and/or significant declines in the amount of business their company receives (service industry jobs, small business owners, gig economy, corporate layoffs, etc.). These newly food insecure households may have made purchases (cars, etc.) that the pre-pandemic food insecure households would not have made. In other words, the population of people going to the food bank has most likely changed from only the very poor to the very poor + households hit hard by the pandemic. 

Now, should these people have saved more in the event of something really terrible happening? This question is a little more philosophical in nature so I'm going to  side skirt it. Only two things to say here: (1) most American households tend to under save and (2) the pandemic was very unpredictable and has affected some industries more than others--making it kind of hard to effectively save for an event like this. 

Answered by:
Dr. Katherine Harris
Assistant Professor
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Last updated on December 29, 2020