'Today' Fails to Define 'Average' in Food Bank Scare

     As unemployment remains low, the economy continues to avoid recession, and the housing market shows signs of beginning to rebound, NBC portrayed “average” Americans on the brink of starvation.

     NBC investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reported on the May 28 “Today” show that food banks across the country are seeing a spike in first-time, middle-income users. High gas prices and inflation at the grocery store have pinched budgets, she said, driving more “average” families to hunger.

     “People who run food banks around the country say they are stunned by the sheer numbers and by the type of people who are showing up for the first time: middle-income working families who could no longer make ends meet,” Myers said in a segment titled “Middle Class Misery.” “Some call them the new face of hunger in America.”

     This followed a CBS story in April on the middle class “facing hunger.”

     Myers featured Kathy Roach, a Southeastern Virginia woman with two kids who has recently started visiting a local food bank.

     “[S]he says her fiancé was laid off from his construction job and the soaring cost of gas to get to work, plus rising utility and food costs, left her without enough to feed her children,” Myers reports.

     Myers labeled Roach “middle-income” without disclosing any of her financial information – other than to say she makes too much to qualify for food stamps. According to the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service, a family of three – Roach and her two children – can qualify for food stamps if monthly income is less than $1,431 – or about $17,000 a year.

     Myers also failed to reveal her definition of “middle-income.” A broad definition of middle income might include the three middle quintiles of American income levels, which range from $18,500 to $88,030.

     Under those guidelines, Roach could qualify as “middle income” and be ineligible for food stamps on as little as $18,500 a year. (Again, viewers can’t be sure what Roach makes because Myers didn’t tell them.) Myers depicted her as average, although the median household income in the United States in 2006 was more than twice that: $48,200.

     “In recent months there’s been a surge in working middle-class families seeking help,” Myers said, again failing to define “middle class” or provide figures on income levels of people new to food bank assistance.

     Myers later noted that in Reading, Penn., officials say an increase in their food bank use comes from “mostly the elderly on fixed incomes and the working poor” – neither of which falls into a reasonable definition of working, middle-income Americans.

     Myers grimly added that, “For families who always live on the edge of hunger the situation appears to have become more dire.”

     Without explaining the terms she uses, Myer’s viewers have no way of knowing whether her “middle-income” examples are actually representative of a wide range of viewers, or if the segment represents yet another extreme example being passed off by a journalists as “average.”