U.S. households with children headed by single females used food pantries more than others over last two decades

Line and bar chart showing shares of U.S. households using food pantries from 2001 to 2021 and U.S. recession periods.

During the past 20 years, households with children headed by a single female consistently showed higher average rates of food pantry use than other household types, including male-headed households with children and married couple households with children. The cost of childcare, education, healthcare, housing, and other expenses can strain a family’s budget, leaving less income available for food purchases. This financial strain may lead parents to seek assistance from food pantries to meet their families’ food needs. Food pantries, often affiliated with faith-based organizations, typically provide free food for people to take home and prepare. The use of food pantries increased in 2009 during the end of the Great Recession and increased in 2020 during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with average rates increasing more than any previous year. In 2021, 7 percent of households with children used food pantries at some point during the year, compared with 5.6 percent of all households. Among households with children, 4.4 percent of married-couple households used food pantries, while 13.8 percent of single female-headed households and 8 percent of single male-headed households used them. Food pantry use among households with children headed by females fluctuated from 9.4 percent in 2001 to 18.3 percent in 2020. The data for this chart come from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s 2001-2021 annual reports on Household Food Security in the United States. The release of the 2022 Household Food Security in the United States report and corresponding statistical supplement is scheduled for October 25, 2023, because of updates to the survey instrument implemented in 2022.

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