NBC: Strong Economy a ‘Myth’ to Hungry and Homeless College Students

On Tuesday, NBC’s Today show seized on a highly questionable survey claiming that many college students across the U.S. were being forced to choose between “tuition or food.” Correspondent Jacob Soboroff even went so far as to claim that “The strong U.S. economy is a myth to many American college students.”

“Eating or education? Jacob Soboroff with an eye-opening look at the cost of college and its toll,” co-host Savannah Guthrie teased late in the 7:00 a.m. ET half hour. Just minutes prior to the segment, fellow co-host Craig Melvin repeated the melodramatic sentiment: “Tuition or food? How the rising cost of college is actually forcing some students to make hard choices. And what, if anything, can be done about it?”

 

 

Those proclamations echoed a recent New York Times article hyping the story: “Tuition or Dinner? Nearly Half of College Students Surveyed in a New Report Are Going Hungry.”  

Introducing the report, Guthrie fretted: “And as this graduation week continues, there’s a troubling trend developing. A new study shows tens of thousands college students cannot afford basic needs, even things like food and rent.” Turning to Soboroff, she noted how the reporter “saw these shocking numbers” and would deliver the “really important story.”

Soboroff warned: “It’s much more prevalent than you might think. The strong U.S. economy is a myth to many American college students.”

He cited the study in question: “Temple University just surveyed over 100 institutions nationwide and get this, over half of the students who responded said recently they literally could not afford meals or housing. Almost 20% had been homeless in the last year.”  

Throughout his report, Soboroff highlighted college students lining up for food pantries on campuses in California. He noted one student’s situation: “Hannah used to keep her homelessness and hunger to herself. But now in a college environment, she’s not alone. She’s part of this center that assists food and housing insecure students.”

Following the report, Melvin declared: “You know, I think for a lot of folks watching it’s probably hard to get your head around how it can be that there’s so many college kids who are struggling for food.”

In response, Soboroff actually acknowledged how flawed the survey actually was:

Well, that’s what’s amazing, is that it’s not unusual to go to a campus where you’re going to find a homeless shelter, necessarily, or a food pantry. 45% of students that were surveyed in this national poll, and it was not a scientific poll, but 86,000 kids were surveyed, were food insecure in the previous month, they didn’t have enough money for food. 56% housing insecure in the previous year. And then 20% nationwide said that they were homeless at some point in the previous year. It’s just unbelievable to think about. And we’re talking about college students.

National Review ripped apart the unscientific poll, pointing out the very low response rate and the fact that participants in the survey were actually offered the chance of winning money.

Wrapping up the Today show discussion, Melvin wondered: “What’s the solution? I mean, how do we fix this? I know that’s a big question.” Sounding like a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Soboroff asserted: “This is economic inequality 101. I mean, this is the issue that is facing not just college students, but people all across the country. When we talk to voters, it’s the same thing that they talk about.”

It was not the first time Soboroff sought to dismiss the booming U.S. economy. In January of 2018, the reporter hyped homelessness in America “in some of our most prosperous states.”

Here is a full transcript of Soboroff’s May 21 report:

7:41 AM ET

CRAIG MELVIN: We are back with In-Depth Today. And Monday we brought you that amazing story of the entire Morehouse class of 2019 having their student debt forgiven. And amazing story, right? Well, not every graduate student is lucky enough to have a billionaire benefactor.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Of course. And as this graduation week continues, there’s a troubling trend developing. A new study shows tens of thousands college students cannot afford basic needs, even things like food and rent. NBC’s Jacob Soboroff is here. You saw these shocking numbers, you saw it first hand. This is a really important story.

JACOB SOBOROFF: Yeah, good morning, guys. It’s much more prevalent than you might think. The strong U.S. economy is a myth to many American college students. Temple University just surveyed over 100 institutions nationwide and get this, over half of the students who responded said recently they literally could not afford meals or housing. Almost 20% had been homeless in the last year. And the numbers are even higher in California, where we took a closer look.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Food for Thought; Rising Cost of College Brings New Challenges for Students]

It is five minutes to 10:00 in the morning on a Monday morning and I’m on the campus of UC Irvine in southern California. These are all students that are lined up. But they’re not lined up for class, they’re lined up to get into this food pantry.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [FOOD PANTRY WORKER]: Anything that you see here, you guys are welcome to help yourselves to.

SOBOROFF: Here, they offer free food to students who can’t otherwise afford it. What kind of stuff did you pick out today?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN [UC IRVINE STUDENT]: Pasta, almond milk, things for sandwiches.

SOBOROFF: And this will last you the week?

MAN: I think so. We can make it stretch.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [UC IRVINE STUDENT]: A lot of my money is for rent and I don’t have enough money for grocery shopping sometimes.

SOBOROFF: You don’t have enough money to shop for food?

WOMAN: Sometimes.

SOBOROFF: Do you work?

WOMAN: I work part-time.

SOBOROFF: And so a part-time job plus being in school is not enough to pay for food and rent?  

WOMAN: Yeah.

SOBOROFF: And so something like this, what does it mean to you to be able to come here and get this?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B [UC IRVINE STUDENT]: It means so much. But just even the energy inside and the staff here, it just means so much, yeah.

SOBOROFF: Everybody’s so friendly.

WOMAN B: Yeah.

SOBOROFF: It makes you emotional?  

WOMAN B: Yeah, it does. It does.

SOBOROFF: It sounds to me like the students that are being served here are not coming here for any other reason than they are working their butts off and this is their last hope.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN C [UC IRVINE STAFF]: Definitely this is not an issue of personal responsibility. About 48% of our undergraduate students have self-reported to have experienced food insecurity in the past year.

SOBOROFF: Almost half of all students in the University of California system have reported some form of food insecurity in the last year?

WOMAN C: Yes.

SOBOROFF: It’s not just the University of California system. Community colleges have to deal with a large number of food insecure students too. This center, an hour away at Santa Monica College, sends out an email when lunch arrives.

SOBOROFF: So how quickly do students come in after they get these emails?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN D [SANTA MONICA COLLEGE STAFF]: Not that long. If they’re not here already.

SOBOROFF: This facility is one of seven food pantries on campus. It’s shocking that you need to have food pantries all throughout this campus in order to serve the need.

NANCY GRASS [SANTA MONICA COLLEGE]: Yeah, well, reality is we actually need more. Things like tuition have gone up over 600% in the last couple of decades. And housing costs, especially here in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, some of the big cities, has gone up exponentially as well.

SOBOROFF: Housing costs are so high that at many colleges, students don’t have enough money for food or rent. Almost two years ago, I met Hannah, who had just moved into an RV with her mom and her younger sister.

HANNAH: People these days, they’re so judgmental.

SOBOROFF: Today she attends West Los Angeles College and she’s still homeless. When I first met you, you were what, 16?

HANNAH: I was 16, yes.

SOBOROFF: And you were taking home school classes in the RV...

HANNAH: Yes.

SOBOROFF: ...with your mom and your sister.

HANNAH: Yes.

SOBOROFF: And today you’re going to college.

HANNAH: Yes.

SOBOROFF: What’s that like?

HANNAH: They’re helping me get through my hardships in the RV. Like they know I live in an RV and they showed me around school. We have two pantries and a wardrobe to go in, which helps.

SOBOROFF: Two food pantries and a wardrobe where you can get free clothes?

HANNAH: Uh huh, free clothes.

SOBOROFF: Hannah used to keep her homelessness and hunger to herself. But now in a college environment, she’s not alone. She’s part of this center that assists food and housing insecure students. What’s next for you, where do you go from here?

HANNAH: I’m just going to study my – [Laughs] – I’m just going to work my hardest and I’m going to transfer to UCLA, that’s where I’m gonna go.

SOBOROFF: You sound pretty sure about that.

HANNAH: I’m positive about that.

MELVIN: You know, I think for a lot of folks watching it’s probably hard to get your head around how it can be that there’s so many college kids who are struggling for food. Give us a sense, perspective-wise. Like, nationwide, what are we talking here?

SOBOROFF: Well, that’s what’s amazing, is that it’s not unusual to go to a campus where you’re going to find a homeless shelter, necessarily, or a food pantry. 45% of students that were surveyed in this national poll, and it was not a scientific poll, but 86,000 kids were surveyed, were food insecure in the previous month, they didn’t have enough money for food. 56% housing insecure in the previous year. And then 20% nationwide said that they were homeless at some point in the previous year. It’s just unbelievable to think about. And we’re talking about college students.

GUTHRIE: Yeah, and we’ve talked about this a lot with elementary kids, hunger, and how that affects their performance. And it makes perfect sense if you have an empty stomach, how can you concentrate on your schooling?

SOBOROFF: Same exact thing for these college students. If you’re food insecure, if your housing insecure, how are you supposed to focus on the task at hand? And it’s a pervasive issue, a systemic issue that’s affecting people all across the country.  

MELVIN: What’s the solution? I mean, how do we fix this? I know that’s a big question.

SOBOROFF: This is economic inequality 101. I mean, this is the issue that is facing not just college students, but people all across the country. When we talk to voters, it’s the same thing that they talk about.  

GUTHRIE: Alright, Jacob, thank you for bringing it to us. We appreciate it.

MELVIN: We’ll have more in the third hour with you as well. Thank you, thank you.

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