ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editors' Pick 2018: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

Prevalence of food insecurity varies by length of reference period

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Food insecure households have difficulty providing adequate food for all their members due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. Those households experiencing the more severe very low food security face reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns at times during the year. The food security measurement methods used by ERS are designed to identify occasional or episodic occurrences of food insecurity at any time in the past 12 months. Additional questions in the food-security survey provide information on whether food insecurity or very low food security occurred in the 30 days prior to the December survey. In 2018, food insecurity was experienced by 11.1 percent of U.S. households at any time during the year and by 5.9 percent of U.S. households from mid-November to mid-December. In 2018, very low food security affected 4.3 percent of U.S. households at any time during the year, and 2.4 percent of households from mid-November to mid-December, and 0.6 to 0.8 percent of U.S. households on any day in that 30-day period. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2018, released in September 2019.

Food-insecure households spend more of their food-at-home dollars at convenience stores

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

While most households in the United States are food secure, meaning they have access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members, some U.S. households are food insecure. In a food-insecure household, not all members have enough food at all times to live active, healthy lives. ERS researchers examined the food purchases of low-income food-insecure households and compared them to purchases of low-income food-secure households with similar characteristics. In particular, they examined differences in the types of places at which the two household groups spent their at-home food dollars using data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS). The researchers found that food-insecure households made nearly 20 percent of their food-at-home purchases at convenience stores, while food-secure households spent 10 percent of their food-at-home dollars at convenience stores. Food-secure households spent a larger share of their food-at-home budgets at traditional grocery stores or supermarkets and at large warehouse club stores or supercenters. The data for the chart come from the ERS report, Food Security and Food Purchase Quality Among Low-Income Households: Findings From the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), published August 2019.

Prevalence of food insecurity in 2018 was down from 2017

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

USDA’s Economic Research Service annually monitors the food security status of U.S. households. In 2018, an estimated 88.9 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the entire year, meaning they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (11.1 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 4.3 percent that experienced very low food security. In very-low-food-secure households, the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted at times because the household lacked money and other resources for obtaining food. The prevalence of food insecurity overall declined from 11.8 percent in 2017. This change was statistically significant and continued a decline from a high of 14.9 percent in 2011. Very low food security was not significantly different from its 4.5-percent rate in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2018, released September 4, 2019.

ICYMI... Disability status can influence the risk of experiencing food insecurity

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Households with adult members who have a disability are at higher risk of experiencing food insecurity—having to struggle at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. U.S. households that included adults with disabilities who were not in the labor force due to disability had the highest food insecurity rate in 2017 at 32.3 percent, followed by households with working-age adults with disabilities not out of the labor force due to disability at 22.0 percent. Households with elderly adults with disabilities do not appear to have as great a risk for food insecurity. In 2017, 9.0 percent of these households were food insecure, a rate similar to that of households with no adults with disabilities. Elderly adults with disabilities may have developed their disabilities after their working years and have savings and/or more stable income sources, such as Social Security or pensions, than working-age adults with disabilities. Among all food-insecure households in 2017, 41 percent included an adult with a disability. A version of this chart appears in the ERS data visualization “Food insecurity and very low food security by education, employment, disability status, and SNAP participation.” This Chart of Note was originally published April 2, 2019.

Disability status can influence the risk of experiencing food insecurity

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Households with adult members who have a disability are at higher risk of experiencing food insecurity—having to struggle at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. U.S. households that included adults with disabilities who were not in the labor force due to disability had the highest food insecurity rate in 2017 at 32.3 percent, followed by households with working-age adults with disabilities not out of the labor force due to disability at 22.0 percent. Households with elderly adults with disabilities do not appear to have as great a risk for food insecurity. In 2017, 9.0 percent of these households were food insecure, a rate similar to that of households with no adults with disabilities. Elderly adults with disabilities may have developed their disabilities after their working years and have savings and/or more stable income sources, such as Social Security or pensions, than working-age adults with disabilities. Among all food-insecure households in 2017, 41 percent included an adult with a disability. A version of this chart appears in the ERS data visualization "Food insecurity and very low food security by education, employment, disability status, and SNAP participation."

Food pantry use by food-insecure households in 2017 was about five times the rate for all U.S. households

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In 2017, 4.7 percent of U.S. households reported getting emergency food from food pantries. Food pantries distribute unprepared foods for families to prepare at home. Using a food pantry is more common among food-insecure households—those that have difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members—than among the general population or food-secure households. In 2017, 26 percent of food-insecure households used a food pantry—more than five times the rate for all U.S. households—which is down from 28.2 percent in 2015 but higher than the 18.6 percent that visited food pantries in 2001. The greater use of food pantries in recent years is likely due in part to greater need, as the national prevalence of food insecurity was higher in 2017 than it was in 2001. In addition to more need, greater use of food pantries over time may also be due to an increase in the number of food pantries. This chart appears in “Food Pantries Provide Emergency Food to More Than One-Quarter of Food-Insecure Households” in the November 2018 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Prevalence of food insecurity varies across the country

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

USDA monitors the extent of food insecurity in U.S. households at the national and State levels. Food-insecure households are defined as those that had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all of their members due to a lack of resources. Food insecurity rates vary across States because of differing characteristics of the population, State-level policies, and economic conditions. The estimated prevalence of food insecurity during 2015-17 ranged from 7.4 percent of the population in Hawaii to 17.9 percent in New Mexico. Data for 2015-17 were combined to provide more reliable State statistics than 1 year alone would provide. In 11 States, the prevalence of food insecurity was higher than the 2015-17 national average of 12.3 percent, and in 15 States, it was lower than the national average. In the remaining 24 States and the District of Columbia, differences from the national average were not statistically significant. This map appears in ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Prevalence of food insecurity varied by household characteristics in 2017

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

While the majority of U.S. households are food secure, a minority experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning their access to adequate food for active, healthy living is limited by a lack of money or other resources. Some households experience very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity, where the food intake of one or more household members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted. Food insecurity includes both very low food security and low food security. In 2017, 11.8 percent of all U.S households were food insecure. The prevalence of food insecurity was substantially higher for low-income households; 36.8 percent of households with incomes below the Federal poverty line were food insecure. Among all U.S. households, food insecurity rates were the highest for single-mother households (30.3 percent) and lowest for multiple-adult households with no children (7.7 percent). A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, September 2018.

Prevalence of food insecurity in 2017 was down from 2016

Thursday, September 6, 2018

In 2017, 88.2 percent of American households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining households (11.8 percent) were food insecure, meaning they had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources. The decline in food insecurity prevalence from 12.3 percent of U.S. households in 2016 is statistically significant. Over a third of food-insecure households (4.5 percent of U.S. households) experienced very low food security in 2017, meaning that at times the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food. The prevalence of very low food security was also significantly lower than in 2016, when it stood at 4.9 percent of U.S. households. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, released September 5, 2018.

Multiple-adult households without children account for over a quarter of U.S. food-insecure households

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The prevalence of food insecurity—having difficulty providing enough food for all household members at some time during the year—varies across U.S. demographic groups. While some types of households may be less likely to be food insecure, the household groups could be so large that the households in the groups who are experiencing food insecurity make up a large share of all food-insecure households. For example, multiple-adult households without children had a lower food insecurity prevalence (8.0 percent) than single-mother households (31.6 percent) and single-father households (21.7 percent) in 2016. However, in the Nation as a whole, multiple-adult households without children—households that include married and unmarried couples with no children, or grown children, as well as households made up of relatives or roommates over the age of 18—are more numerous than single-parent households, so these multiple-adult households make up a larger share of all food-insecure households. In 2016, multiple-adult households without children accounted for 27 percent of all food-insecure households; single-mother households accounted for 20 percent; and single-father households accounted for 4 percent. A version of this chart appears in "Understanding the Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Food Insecurity in the United States" in the September 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Rural households account for nearly one-fifth of U.S. food-insecure households

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Some U.S. demographic groups are more likely than others to be food insecure—meaning they struggled at some time during the year to provide enough food for all their members. Understanding which groups are at increased risk of food insecurity is helpful for targeting assistance to those most in need, as is understanding the frequency of a group’s occurrence in the food-insecure population. A group could have a relatively low risk of food insecurity, but be so large that the members of the group who are experiencing food insecurity make up a large share of all food-insecure households. For example, while the prevalence of food insecurity in 2016 was relatively low for households in suburbs or exurbs of principal cities (9.5 percent), this group accounted for one-third of food insecure households. Rural households had a food insecurity rate of 15 percent in 2016 and accounted for 18 percent of food-insecure households—a higher share than their 14-percent share of all U.S. households. A version of this chart appears in "Understanding the Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Food Insecurity in the United States" in the September 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Single-parent households face higher food insecurity than married-couple households with children

Monday, November 13, 2017

In 2016, 12.3 percent of U.S. households were food insecure—they had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of money or other resources for food. While the prevalence of food insecurity has been falling since 2008, some types of households had levels of food insecurity in 2016 at or above levels prior to the 2007-09 recession. For example, food insecurity among households with children headed by a single mother was 31.6 percent in 2016, higher than this group’s 2007 rate of 30.2 percent. By the same token, the prevalence of food insecurity among single father households was 21.7 percent in 2016, well above the 17 percent prevalence in 2006. Both single mother and single father households had higher food insecurity rates than married couple households with children, reflecting the generally lower incomes of single mother and single father households. Married couple households with children and households with children under the age of 6 had 2016 food insecurity prevalence rates similar to their pre-recession levels. This chart is part of a set of interactive charts on food insecurity trends on the ERS Web site.

Likelihood of low-income adults having a chronic disease increases as food security worsens

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

ERS researchers recently used health, demographic, and food security information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey to examine the relationship between 10 chronic diseases in low-income working-age adults and the food security status of their households. The researchers controlled for a variety of household and individual characteristics that may be associated with health—such as income, health insurance, and marital status—to get a clearer picture of the strength of the association between food security status and health. In all cases, the likelihood of having the particular health condition increased as household food security worsened. Among the 5 most common of the 10 chronic diseases examined, predicted illness prevalences were 4.3 to 11.2 percentage points higher for low-income adults ages 19-64 in very low food secure households (eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced) compared with those in high food secure households (households had no difficulty consistently obtaining adequate food). This chart appears in "Adults in Households With More Severe Food Insecurity Are More Likely To Have a Chronic Disease" in the October 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Just under 40 percent of low-income U.S. households were food insecure in 2016

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Poverty is one of the primary characteristics associated with food insecurity. While 12.3 percent of all U.S. households were food insecure in 2016, the prevalence of food insecurity among low-income households was much higher. Of the 13.9 million U.S. households with incomes below the Federal poverty line in 2016, 38.3 percent (5.3 million households) were food insecure. A food insecure household is one that has difficulty providing enough food for all its members because of a lack of money or other resources for food. Twenty-one percent of households with incomes below poverty (2.9 million households) had low food security and 17.3 percent (2.4 million households) experienced very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity where food intake of one or more household members was reduced and normal eating patterns disrupted. By comparison, 7.4 and 4.9 percent of all U.S. households had low and very low food security, respectively. The data for this chart come from Household Food Security in the United States in 2016, released September 6, 2017.

Prevalence of food insecurity in 2016 essentially unchanged from 2015

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In 2016, 87.7 percent of American households were food secure throughout the year. The remaining households (12.3 percent) were food insecure—meaning that they had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources. That level is essentially unchanged from 2015, but down from a high of 14.9 percent in 2011 and also continues the downward trend in food insecurity in recent years. Over a third of food insecure households (4.9 percent of U.S. households) experienced very low food security in 2016, meaning that at times the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food. The prevalence of very low food security was also essentially unchanged from 2015, but down from 5.6 percent in 2014. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2016, released September 6, 2017.

Over 80 percent of food-insecure households with school-age children receive free or reduced-price school lunches

Monday, August 21, 2017

As summer comes to a close, kids head back to school. For many low-income children and teens, returning to school also means returning to free or reduced-price lunches provided through USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP). In September 2016, 21.9 million children received free or reduced-price school lunches, including children who lived in food-insecure households—households that at times have difficulty putting enough food on the table due to limited resources. In 2015, 13.1 million children lived in food-insecure households. In 2014 and 2015, 84 percent of low-income food-insecure households with school-age children accessed free or reduced-price lunches through the NSLP, either in combination with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (46 percent), which provide food and nutrition assistance to low-income Americans, or alone (38 percent). An estimated 6 percent of low-income food-insecure households with school-age children received SNAP, but not free or reduced-price school lunches, and 10 percent did not participate in either program. This chart appears in "USDA’s National School Lunch Program Reduces Food Insecurity" in the August 2017 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

Adults in households with more severe food insecurity are more likely to have a chronic disease

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ERS researchers recently examined the association of food security status with 10 chronic diseases in working-age adults living in households with incomes at or below 200 percent of the Federal poverty level. They looked at the prevalence of the chronic diseases across four levels of household food security, ranging from high food security (household had no problems or anxiety about consistently obtaining adequate food) to very low food security (eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced). The researchers discovered that adults in households that were less food secure were significantly more likely to have one or more chronic diseases and the likelihood increased as food insecurity worsened. Low-income adults in households with very low food security were 40 percent more likely to have one or more of the chronic diseases examined than low-income adults with high food security. Moreover, the researchers found that food insecurity status was a stronger predictor of chronic illness than income for low-income working age adults. This chart appears in Food Insecurity, Chronic Disease, and Health Among Working Age Adults, released on July 31, 2017.

Forty-three percent of households with food-insecure children in 2014-15 had incomes below the Federal poverty line

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

In 2014-15, 17.9 percent of U.S. households with children under the age of 18 were food insecure—they had difficulty putting enough food on the table for all their members. In about half of these households (8.6 percent of U.S. households with children), children were food insecure and experienced reduced dietary quality and food intake. Food insecurity is closely related to income as poor households are more likely to experience food insecurity. In 2014-15, 43 percent of households with food-insecure children had incomes below the Federal poverty line and one-quarter had incomes between the poverty line and 185 percent of the poverty line. Households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line may be eligible for programs like the free- or reduced-price National School Lunch Program. An ERS review of scientific research studies shows that participation in USDA school meals reduces food insecurity. However, about 19 percent of households with food-insecure children in 2014-15 may have been ineligible for such assistance. The data for this chart appear in the ERS report, Children’s Food Security and USDA Child Nutrition Programs, released on June 20, 2017.

Natural gas price shocks increase the probability of food hardship

Friday, July 14, 2017

Poor households often lack the savings, assets, and income to protect themselves from unexpected increases in energy prices (called energy price shocks). A recent ERS study explored the relationship between energy price shocks and food hardship, including food insecurity—not having resources to acquire enough food for some or all household members. The study found that price shocks in gasoline, natural gas, and electricity increased the probability of households becoming food insecure and/or experiencing two other food hardship measures, with a larger response for low-income households compared to the average response for all households. Natural gas price shocks had the most consistent effects. Over 2000-14, annual price increases for natural gas ranged from 7 to 25 percent, and some years posted price declines. The study found that increases in natural gas prices above these typical increases, i.e. unexpected, large price rises estimated to average 41 percent above prior years’ prices, raised the probability of needing more money for food by 1.0 percentage point for all households in the data set and by 1.4 percentage points for low-income households. The unexpected, large price increases also increased the probability of food stress by 1.2 percentage points for all households and 2.2 percentage points for low-income households. Natural gas price shocks increased the probability of food insecurity by 2.3 percentage points for low-income households, more than double the response for all households. This chart appears in "Unexpected Hikes in Energy Prices Increase the Likelihood of Food Insecurity" from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, July 2017.

Child food insecurity more common in households with school-age children than with children only under age 5

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Each year a portion of American households are food insecure—they struggle to afford enough food for all household members. In some of these households, children—along with adults—experience reductions in dietary quality and food intake. In 2014-15, children were food insecure in 8.6 percent of all U.S. households with children. Households that only included young children (0 to 4 years) had a lower prevalence of child food insecurity (4.3 percent) than those that included school-age children (8.1 to 10.3 percent depending on the age of the oldest child in the household). USDA child nutrition programs, such as WIC, the National School Lunch Program, and the School Breakfast Program, can be important sources of nutritious foods and meals for food-insecure children. A review of a number of scientific research studies shows that participation in USDA school meals reduces food insecurity and has positive effects on diet for those that do experience food insecurity. The data for this chart appear in the ERS report, Children’s Food Security and USDA Child Nutrition Programs, released on June 20, 2017.

Charts of Note header image for left nav