Characteristics of Low-Income Households With Very Low Food Security: An Analysis of the USDA GPRA Food Security Indicator
by Mark Nord
Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-25) 27 pp, May 2007
The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors the prevalence of
"very low food security" among low-income households as a measure
of how well the Government's domestic nutrition assistance programs
are meeting the needs of their target populations. Very low food
security in a household means that at times during the year, food
intake of one or more household members is reduced and normal
eating patterns disrupted because the household lacks sufficient
money and other resources for food.
What Is the Issue?
USDA set a goal of reducing the prevalence of very low food
security among low-income households to 7.4 percent or below by
2007 as part of its 2002-07 strategic plan, developed in connection
with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). In 2005,
the prevalence of very low food security among low-income
households stood at 12.6 percent, up from 10.9 percent in 2000.
Reversing this trend may require changes in nutrition assistance
policies and programs. Information about the composition, location,
employment, education, and other characteristics of households with
very low food security may provide important insights to guide
these policy and program changes and improve the food security of
economically vulnerable households.
What Did the Study Find?
To achieve the USDA food security target, the food security of
households with incomes that are less than 130 percent of the
poverty line will need to surpass the current level of food
security of households with incomes in the range of 130 to 150
percent of the poverty line. In 2005, when the data used in this
study were collected, the poverty line for a household of four made
up of two adults and two children was $19,806.
Nearly half of low-income households with very low food security
had one or more members employed. Just over half received
assistance from one or more of the three largest Federal nutrition
assistance programs-the Food Stamp Program, the National School
Lunch Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The prevalence of very low food
security among households receiving food stamps during the study
period was more than double the USDA target, and for households
that had recently left the Food Stamp Program, the prevalence rate
of very low food security was nearly three times the target.
Low-income households with very low food security included
disproportionately large shares of men ages 19-64 living alone,
households headed by non-Hispanic Blacks, and households with adult
members who were unemployed or disabled. These profiles of
low-income households with very low food security suggest that
households' food security depends on a number of demographic,
economic, geographic, and household structural factors.
Achieving the GPRA food security objective may depend not only
on improving the effectiveness and accessibility of nutrition
assistance programs, but also on improving other key household
How Was the Study Conducted?
Data on households' food security as well as their economic and
demographic characteristics were provided by the nationally
representative Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement
for 2005. The prevalence of very low food security was calculated
for low-income households (annual income less than 130 percent of
the poverty line) in selected demographic and economic groups.