It’s not news that traditional school meal programs for students in poverty don’t work as well for busy and hyper-self-conscious teenagers, but new research throws the problem into graphic relief: Teenagers shoplifted, sold drugs, or traded sex to get enough food for themselves and their families.
Some 6.8 million students ages 10 to 17 live in homes without reliable access to enough food, according to two new studies by the Urban Institute.
While more schools are providing free meals to all students to reduce the stigma of poverty, researchers found teenagers are still far less likely than younger students to know about and participate in food-support programs either in or out of school.
Researchers drew their findings from focus groups with nearly 200 13- to 18-year-olds in 10 communities nationwide, from Chicago, Los Angeles, and the District of Columbia to eastern Oregon and rural North Carolina. All the groups included at least some students who had experienced food insecurity in the past year.
Although all the students said they preferred to get a formal job to make ends meet, the researchers found youth unemployment was higher than the national average of 27 percent in eight of the communities studied, and in most of them, child-labor laws restricted employment for students younger than 16.
A version of this article appeared in the September 21, 2016 edition of Education Week as Food Insecurity