Food Security and Nutrition Assistance
ERS monitors the food security of U.S. households through an annual, nationally representative survey. While most U.S. households are food secure, a minority of U.S. households experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning that their access to adequate food for active, healthy living is limited by lack of money and other resources. Some experience very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity where food intake of one or more members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted. Reliable monitoring of food security contributes to the effective operation of USDA’s 15 food and nutrition assistance programs aimed at reducing food insecurity.
In 2021, 89.8 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining 10.2 percent of households were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 3.8 percent (5.1 million households) that had very low food security. Food insecurity was unchanged from 10.5 percent in 2020. Food insecurity increased from 10.7 percent in 2001 to nearly 12 percent in 2004, declined to 11 percent in 2005–07, then increased to 14.6 percent in 2008. Food insecurity peaked at 14.9 percent in 2011 and has declined since.
In 2021, 32.1 percent of households with incomes below the Federal poverty line were food insecure. Food-insecure households include those with low food security and very low food security. Rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average for single-parent households, and for Black and Hispanic households. Food insecurity was more common in both large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas.
Parents often shield children from experiencing food insecurity, particularly very low food security, even when the parents themselves are food insecure. In 2021, 12.5 percent of households with children were food insecure. In about half of those food-insecure households with children, only the adults experienced food insecurity. But in 6.2 percent of households with children, both children and adults were food insecure sometime during the year. In 0.7 percent of U.S. households with children (274,000 households), both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security.
Food insecurity rates differ across States due to both the characteristics of their populations and to State-level policies and economic conditions. The estimated prevalence of food insecurity during 2019–21 ranged from 5.4 percent in New Hampshire to 15.3 percent in Mississippi (data for 2019–21 were combined to provide more reliable statistics at the State level).
Federal spending on USDA's food and nutrition assistance programs totaled $182.5 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2021, 49 percent more than the previous high of $122.8 in FY 2020. Spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also reached a new high and increased by 44 percent from FY 2020 to FY 2021. Spending on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) increased by one percent. Combined spending on the four largest child nutrition programs increased by 27 percent. Spending on two temporary programs created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic—Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer and the Farmers to Families Food Box Program—accounted for 17 percent of the total in FY 2021.
In fiscal year 2019, children accounted for 43 percent of all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, down about 1 percent from 2018. Children younger than 5 made up 13 percent of participants, while school-age children made up 30 percent. Adults ages 18-59 represented 42 percent of SNAP participants in fiscal year 2019, unchanged from fiscal year 2018. The share of the SNAP caseload age 60 and older grew from 14 percent in fiscal year 2018 to 16 percent in fiscal year 2019.
In fiscal year 2021, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) served an average of 41.5 million people per month, or 12.5 percent of U.S. residents. The share of residents receiving SNAP benefits in each State ranged as high as 24.6 percent in New Mexico to as low as 4.9 percent in Utah. In 39 States, the share fell somewhere between 8 and 16 percent.