Boys desperate for food were said to go to extremes such as shoplifting and selling drugs. A total of participants aged 13 to 18 took part and were allowed to remain anonymous. Their testimony paints a picture of teenagers — often overlooked by policymakers focused on children aged zero to five — missing meals, making sacrifices and going hungry, with worrying long-term consequences.
It was just very matter-of-fact and very common, in the richest country in the world. A girl in Portland, Oregon told researchers: A boy in rural North Carolina said: A girl in San Diego, California, said: She felt the need to step up. She started selling herself. In the communities with the highest poverty rates, both girls and boys steal food and other basics from local stores for themselves or their families.
A male teenager in Chicago said: Boys mainly take items such as phones, shoes, jewelry and bikes. Selling drugs is also common. One in Los Angeles said: Getting pushed into drug dealing, sometimes getting pulled into gangs.
The stories we heard were mostly about girls dating older men in order to get them to provide money for them for rent, for food, for clothes. You hear about homeless teenagers engaging in transactional sex, you hear it about refugees. Teens feel a sense of shame around hunger and hide it. Many refuse to accept food or assistance in public settings or from people outside a trusted circle of friends and family. Food-insecure teens think about how to mitigate their hunger and make food last longer for the whole family.
Parents try to protect teens from hunger and from bearing responsibility for providing for themselves or others. However, teens routinely take on this role, going hungry so younger siblings can eat or finding ways to bring in food and money. Teens would overwhelmingly prefer to earn money through a formal job but prospects for youth employment are extremely limited. In a few communities, teens talked about going to jail or failing school as strategies for ensuring regular meals. The report is not an attempt to provide national statistics but does cite research that estimates 6.