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Millions of American school children are receiving free or reduced lunches for the first time as America’s economic downturn has left many middle-class families struggling to make it.

See also: California Schools Move Ahead With Healthier Meals Despite Backtrack In Congress

The number of students recieiving subsidized lunch rose 17 percent since the 2006, according to Department of Agriculture data gathered by the New York Times. Eleven states had four-year increases of 25 percent or more.

“These are very large increases and a direct reflection of the hardships American families are facing,” said Benjamin Senauer, a University of Minnesota economist who studies the meals program, adding that the surge had happened so quickly “that people like myself who do research are struggling to keep up with it.”

Read more at the New York Times.

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