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Billy Penn is one of 21 news organizations producing BROKE in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on economic justice. Read more at or follow at @BrokeInPhilly.

Updated Nov. 13

To ensure every Philadelphian has enough food to survive, it would cost an amount equal to about $100 per year for every resident, a new report estimates.

Over the past six years, the number of people experiencing food insecurity in Philadelphia has increased by 22 percent, according to a study by Hunger Free America.

Meanwhile, nationwide food insecurity numbers are seeing the opposite trend: Since 2012 they dropped about 4 percent, per an Inquirer report. Other regional rates of food insecurity have continued to decrease. In New Jersey, food insecurity dropped by 26 percent, while in Delaware, it’s down by 8 percent.

Between 2015 to 2017, Philly was home to more than 300,000 people who couldn’t consistently afford food. That’s around a fifth of the city’s population (18.3 percent, to be exact), and it means the number of food-insecure Philadelphians exceeds the entire population of Pittsburgh.

For the record, nearly 250,000 of those hungry Philadelphians were working — but still were found to not have regular access to healthy food.

Hunger isn’t quite as widespread in the broader Philadelphia Metropolitan Statistical Area as it is in Philadelphia proper. When you include some surrounding suburbs in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, the food insecurity rate for the Philly MSA comes in at at 11.3 percent.

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A $10 difference

Philly’s high rate is not going to be easy to fix. Hunger Free America estimated that in total, it would cost $158 million to solve citywide food insecurity.

How’d that number get calculated? Per Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, it’s based on some conventional wisdom from the USDA.

Individuals who are experiencing food insecurity are estimated to spend about $10 less on food each week. So with $10 more in their weekly budget, they’d be able to spend as much on food as people who aren’t experiencing food insecurity. Multiply that by the number of food-insecure people in Philly, and then again by 52 weeks in the year, and you get the $158 million figure.

But broken down by population, the number isn’t actually all that high. It’s about $100 per every Philly resident. For context, a monthly SEPTA TransPass costs about the same.

Existing programs

The city might not be able to pay up $160 million to solve hunger. But in the meantime, local food insecurity organizations and nonprofits are working every day to feed people.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...