A new report by Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, says that 25 percent of military personnel use food banks. Could that possibly be true?
Before I dive into the numbers let me make one thing very clear: any hunger is unacceptable, regardless of the cause, regardless of the population. Even if it was one percent of military personnel needing a food bank to fill the gap, that would still be unacceptable. It would still be cause for us to pause and do something about it.
Back to the report, where we are going to focus on that number.
The survey asked over 600,00 food bank users nationwide a long series of questions, including whether or not anyone in their household had served in the military and whether or not any of them are currently serving. Four percent of those who responded said that a household member is currently serving in Guard, Reserve or Active Duty military (including the Coast Guard).
Extrapolated out to four percent of the total number of food bank users in their network, that number equals 25 percent of the nation's combined Guard, Reserve and Active Duty populations.Like with food stamp at the commissary statistics, which capture all commissary users not just active duty ones, this report creates the ideal atmosphere for the wildly inappropriate use of statistics with the military population.
And it lets the civilian media's total ignorance of the military shine bright as the day is long.
To the average civilian person (and, sadly, media member) military-is-military-is-military. There's no difference between the very important citizen soldier who generally wears the uniform one weekend a month and is paid accordingly, and the folks who wear it every day and are, therefore, paid more.
(Before you think I'm discrediting Guardsmen and Reservists -- I'm not. You do a hugely important work. You are just on a different schedule and compensated accordingly ... although I have heard horror stories of the challenges of getting compensated at all. But we all have our problems with finance. Still haven't seen a certain several month separation pay here and it's been 2.5 years).
Without knowing those differences the logical next step is to say "I can't believe we are paying 25 percent of our military so little that they have to go to a food bank!" And they aren't picturing the folks who are paid for a weekend a month. They are picturing the active duty ones.
Is there suffering? Yes. Do some military families, including active ones, have a hard time for whatever reason? Yes. Does much the military feel underpaid? Probably (although statistically, according to the DoD, that isn't accurate).
But saying "25 percent of military families use food banks" without clarifying that a likely HUGE lump of these people are not full time military is criminally inaccurate. That's how you end up with stories like this one from NBC and this one from NPR (not quite so bad as the NBC one).