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.

The prevalence of food insecurity in 2018 is down from 2017

In 2018, 88.9 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining 11.1 percent of households were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 4.3 percent (5.6 million households) that had very low food security. Food insecurity was lower in 2018 than 2017 (11.8 percent). Food insecurity increased from 10.5 percent in 2000 to nearly 12 percent in 2004, declined to 11 percent in 2005-07, then increased to 14.6 in 2008. Food insecurity peaked at 14.9 percent in 2011 and has declined since.

Food insecurity rates are highest for single mother households and households with incomes below poverty line

In 2018, 35.3 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 large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas.

One in seven households with children were affected by food insecurity in 2018

Parents often shield children from experiencing food insecurity, particularly very low food security, even when the parents themselves are food insecure. In 2018, 13.9 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 7.1 percent of households with children, both children and adults were food insecure sometime during the year. In 0.6 percent of U.S. households with children (220,000 households) both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security.

Prevalence of food insecurity is not uniform across the country

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 2016-18 ranged from 7.8 percent in New Hampshire to 16.8 percent in New Mexico. (Data for 2016-18 were combined to provide more reliable statistics at the State level.)

Expenditures for USDA’s food assistance programs continued to contract through 2019

Federal expenditures for USDA's 15 food and nutrition assistance programs totaled $92.4 billion in fiscal 2019, or 5 percent less than the previous fiscal year. This was almost 22 percent less than the inflation-adjusted historical high of $117.9 billion set in fiscal 2013. Expenditures decreased by 8 percent for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and by 6 percent for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) from fiscal 2018 to fiscal 2019. Expenditures for the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program each increased between 2 and 3 percent.

Children accounted for 44 percent of SNAP participants in 2018

In fiscal 2018, children accounted for 44 percent of all SNAP participants, unchanged from fiscal 2017. Children younger than five made up 13 percent of participants in fiscal 2018, while school-age children made up 31 percent. Adults age 18-59 represented 42 percent of SNAP participants in fiscal 2018, compared with 43 percent in fiscal 2017. Adults age 60 and older's share of the SNAP caseload grew from 13 percent in fiscal 2017 to 14 percent in fiscal 2018.

Participation in SNAP varies across States, reflecting differences in need and program policies

In fiscal 2019, SNAP served an average of 35.7 million people per month, or 10.9 percent of Americans. The percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits ranged from 19.8 percent in New Mexico to 4.2 percent in Wyoming. In fiscal 2019, there were 11 States besides Wyoming with 8 percent or less of their populations receiving SNAP benefits.