WASHINGTON - In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, there is a heart-wrenching scene of the struggling Cratchit family's meager meal that included a small goose and a tiny plum pudding.
Barely scraping by on the minuscule wages paid by the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens describes "one small atom of a bone upon the dish" that remained on the table, followed by a "speckled cannon-ball" of blazing pudding with a sprig of holly stuck on top that ended the skimpy Christmas Eve dinner.
"But nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so," Dickens observes.
Such was daily life of want and hunger among the poor population in 18th century London. With so many mouths to feed, Mrs. Cratchit managed to stretch what little they had to eat with a few potatoes and some apple sauce.
Here in the world's wealthiest country, some may think that such bleak circumstances are long since past or very rare. But they're not. Millions of our fellow citizens are still struggling to feed themselves and their families, and many do not have enough to eat.
Consider this news story last September about a deeply disturbing report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service:
"An estimated 14.5 million American households had difficulty providing enough food for their families last year, according to a recent government report."
"In seven million of those homes, at least one member of the family had to skip meals or eat less because money was tight. These numbers are more or less unchanged since 2008," the report said.
It doesn't get very much if any attention on the nightly network news programs, but national poverty rates have been rising under the Obama administration over the last four years at least.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.1 percent of all Americans were living in poverty in 2010 -- the highest poverty rate since 1993. It wasn't always this way. According to the government, the official poverty rate declined each year between 1993 and 2000 when it fell to 11.3 percent.
In 2010, 31.6 percent of households that were headed by single women were living below the poverty income line. Nearly 16 percent of households headed by single men lived in poverty.
Children bear the brunt of poverty in the U.S. today -- accounting for 36 percent of the nation's poor. In 2010, 16.4 million children were poor.