Hunger is forcing some teens in low-income communities across the US into the sex trade, according to a report by the Urban Institute. The authors looked at poor teens in 10 communities across the nation and found that, in most of them, girls turn to "selling their body" and "transactional dating" with older men, and boys shoplift and sell drugs to pay for food. “People have to do other things,” a teenage boy in Illinois told the authors. “They do what they have to do to survive because not everyone can go out and get a job.” Susan Popkin, the lead author of the report, "Impossible Choices," called the findings "new and shocking." She told the Guardian: "The level of desperation that it implies was really shocking to me. It’s a situation I think is just getting worse over time."
An estimated 6.8 million 10- to-17-year-olds do not have enough to eat, of which 2.9 million have "very low food security," the researchers said. "A small subset of teens make risky decisions in big and small communities alike because family poverty has increased, working-class wages have stalled, and cash assistance from government programs has wilted." The food budget is one of the first to be cut when families are in crisis, they said, adding that the results raise questions about the priorities of a Congress more focused on spending on very young children. The study casts doubt on the legacy of Bill Clinton's sweeping welfare reform two decades ago, notes the Guardian. Among the institute's recommendations: expanding school meals in the summer and after class, creating jobs for kids, and keeping kids out of the criminal justice system. Says Popkin: "One of the things we see, particularly around girls, is that if they get caught up in the criminal justice system, they get treated as status offenders, so they get arrested ... instead of receiving the support they should be having for being exploited." (Read more poverty stories.)