Poverty in the United States is set to climb to its highest level in nearly half a century, with suburban families, underemployed workers and children the hardest hit.

These alarming statistics are among many of the latest facts laid bare in the ninth edition of Dan Smith's The State of the World Atlas, set for realese next week.

The book reports that 19 percent of Americans say they could not feed their families in 2011, despite living in one of the world's richest countries.

The official poverty rate was around 15.7 percent in 2011, reflecting an increase of 6 percent on the previous year, according to a survey by the Associated Press.

"I'm reluctant to say that we've gone back to where we were in the 1960s," Peter Edelman, director of the Georgetown Centre on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy told the news agency.

"The problem is that the tidal wave of low-wage jobs is dragging us down and the wage problem is not going to go away anytime soon."

Estimates suggest that 47 million people in the US, equal to one in every six, were poor last year. The highest level on record was 22.4 percent in 1959, when the government began calculating poverty figures.

Almost one in five Americans say they have had trouble paying for food at least once during the past 12 months.

"Nationwide, 18.2 percent of Americans so far in 2012 say there have been times when they could not afford the food they needed, on par with the 18.6 percent who had trouble affording food in 2011," stated a Gallup poll report.

The study also highlighted that residents in southern states such as Mississippi and Alabama are among the most likely to struggle to afford food.

The rise in people battling to feed their families is reflected in the huge rise in the government funding required to help the neediest.

The US government spent a record £50 billion on food stamps - government vouchers enabling eligible consumers to buy only food at grocery stores and no hot meals.

The number of Americans using food stamps hit a record high in September 2012, when 47.7 million received help.

Most Americans on food stamps have around £2.50 a day to spend on food. That's around 87p for each meal.

Official figures from September 2012 showed that more than 46 million Americans, 15 percent of the US population, are living in poverty, the highest rate for 40 years.

According to a report by the US Department of Agriculture, women living alone and African-American households suffered the biggest increase in low food security.

Around 97 percent of poor people said they cut back on the amount they ate or skipped a meal, while 91 percent said it happened often throughout the year.

Paradoxically, Americans throw away as much as 40 per cent of their annual food purchases, equivalent to approximately £102.6 billion worth of produce and meat.

A study released by a US environmental group, Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), says that the huge waste occurs at all points in food production, from farms to the dinner table.

The average American throws away ten times as much food as a consumer in Southeast Asia, up 50 percent from the 1970s.

"For now, the relatively low US prices make it easy to toss food, which may explain why the average American family of four ends up trashing the equivalent of up to £1,415 worth of food each year," said the report.

NRDC scientist Dana Gunders, who authored the study, stated that food makes up the largest proportion of solid waste in US landfills.

"We're essentially tossing every other piece of food that crosses our path," she said. "That's money and precious resources down the drain."

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