A report issued by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF) indicates that 51% of American public school students are now eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, one indicator of the nation’s growing challenge battling childhood poverty. (Approximately 38% of America’s public school population was eligible for free or reduced-price lunches in 2000). The report was compiled with data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), and reflects information from the latest reporting year, 2013. The statistics paint a picture of uneven economic recovery, hardship and childhood vulnerability. The report is also certain to add fuel to the already heated and complex political discussions about funding federal nutrition programs.

From the SEF report:

“In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.

Most of the states with a majority of low income students are found in the South and the West. Thirteen of the 21 states with a majority of low income students in 2013 were located in the South, and six of the other 21 states were in the West.

Mississippi led the nation with the highest rate: ­71 percent, almost three out of every four public school children in Mississippi, were low-income. The nation’s second highest rate was found in New Mexico, where 68 percent of all public school students were low income in 2013.”

For an “income map” and overview of the report, including analysis of some key social and political implications, visit the New York Times.