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Meals at school and social gatherings make up 64 percent of free food events for SNAP households

Thursday, December 7, 2017

U.S. households obtain food from a variety of sources, including retail food stores, restaurants, schools, and work places. Some of these aquistions—such as meals at family gatherings and employer-provided meals and snack—are free to the household. Participants in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) were asked to report each food acquisition event over the course of 7 days between April 2012 and January 2013, noting where the food was obtained and how much the household paid for each item or if the food was free. A food acquisition event can involve a single meal or snack, multiple meals, or a grocery store visit to obtain the week’s groceries. The share of free events was higher among SNAP participants (30 percent of total food acquisitions) as compared to low-income and higher-income nonparticipants (22 and 21 percent, respectively). SNAP participants reported larger shares of free events from schools and from social gatherings of family, friends, and others. Children from SNAP households are eligible to receive free meals from USDA school meals programs, which may make it easier for SNAP households to access these free meals. Further research is needed to understand the reasons for differences in free food events across groups. This chart is from "Nearly 30 Percent of the Times That SNAP Households Acquire Food, the Food Is Free" in the November 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.

In the past decade, participation in USDA’s School Breakfast Program has grown by more than 5 million

Monday, November 6, 2017

USDA’s School Breakfast Program makes healthy breakfasts available to all students in participating schools, with children from low-income households receiving the meals for free or at a reduced price. The program has grown considerably in the past 11 years, with participation increasing from 9.4 million children on a typical school day in fiscal 2005 to 14.6 million in fiscal 2016, an increase of 5.2 million children daily. Most of that growth in participation has been among students qualified to receive free breakfasts. Free breakfast participation rose from 6.8 million children in fiscal 2005 to 11.5 million in fiscal 2016, an increase of 4.7 million children. In fiscal 2016, 79 percent of breakfasts served were free, 6 percent were provided at a reduced price, and 15 percent were full price. Federal spending for the program totaled $4.2 billion in fiscal 2016—an increase of 7 percent over fiscal 2015. The data for this chart are from the Child Nutrition Programs topic page on the ERS Web site, updated October 2017.

SNAP benefits play a strong role in the food budgets of participant households with children and those in deep poverty

Thursday, October 12, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to increase the food purchasing power of program participants. The program provides low-income households with monthly benefits for purchasing food from authorized food stores (referred to as “food at home”). A recent ERS study found that SNAP benefits accounted for 63 percent of the average food-at-home spending of SNAP households in 2012, with households using other resources, such as their own income or benefits from other programs, to pay for the remaining 37 percent. SNAP’s contribution to food-at-home spending was higher than the average for SNAP households with children, those with no elderly members, and those in poverty. SNAP is designed so that benefits increase with household size and decrease with income, and households with lowest incomes per household member receive higher SNAP benefits. SNAP benefits accounted for 80 percent of food-at-home spending of SNAP households with incomes below 50 percent of the Federal poverty guidelines in 2012. This chart appears in the ERS report, Food Spending Patterns of Households Participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Findings from USDA’s FoodAPS, August 2017.

In 2016, 73 percent of USDA school lunches were free or reduced price

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

On a typical school day in fiscal 2016, 30.4 million children participated in USDA’s National School Lunch Program and 73 percent of them received the meals for free or at a reduced price. The number of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches has grown from 18.5 million in 2008 to 22.1 million in 2016. Some of this increase may be attributable to the 2007-09 recession and the slow recovery that followed. Declining incomes likely led more families to qualify and/or apply for free or reduced-price lunches. In addition, since 2014, the Community Eligibility Provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has made it possible for more schools to offer free meals to all their students. Between 2008 and 2011, the increase in free and reduced price participation more than offset the decline in full-price participation, with total participation increasing from 31.0 million to 31.8 million children daily. After 2011, however, declining full-price participation resulted in total daily participation falling. This chart appears in the Child Nutrition Programs topic page on the ERS Web site, updated on October 2, 2017.

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.

Food spending of SNAP households is concentrated in the few days after receiving SNAP benefits

Monday, September 18, 2017

A growing number of studies find that households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have cyclical food purchasing patterns. A large share of these households’ grocery store (food at home) spending occurs soon after the household receives its SNAP benefits, and then declines steadily throughout the rest of the month. ERS researchers, using data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS), found a similar monthly pattern. SNAP households spent an average of $92 on food at home on the day of benefit receipt in 2012, almost all of which was purchased with SNAP benefits. Over the rest of the month, average daily food-at-home spending ranged from $9 to $30 per day, and the share of food-at-home spending from SNAP benefits trended downward over the month. SNAP households may be able to smooth their food consumption over the month by slowly drawing down their food stores over the course of the month. However, other studies have found that SNAP participants consume fewer calories and that diet quality decreases toward the end of the month. This chart appears in "USDA’s FoodAPS: Providing Insights Into U.S. Food Demand and Food Assistance Programs" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, August 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.

SNAP households spend less on food than eligible nonparticipants, after adjusting for household size and composition

Thursday, August 17, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is designed to increase the food purchasing power of low-income households. In fiscal 2016, the program provided participating households with monthly benefits averaging $255—about $59 a week—to purchase food at authorized foodstores. Analysis of USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) data revealed that the average SNAP household spent $108 per week on food in 2012, below the $132 average U.S. weekly food spending and similar to the $106 spent on food by eligible nonparticipants. SNAP households, however, are larger and contain more children and fewer elderly members than eligible nonparticipating households. ERS researchers adjusted for household size and composition by converting household weekly food spending into adult-male equivalents—essentially a per person measure that accounts for differing caloric needs based on age and gender. On an adult-male equivalent basis, weekly food spending by SNAP households was $47 compared with the $61 spent by those who are eligible for SNAP but chose not to participate. SNAP households spent less on both food from grocery stores and from eating out places than all U.S. households and eligible nonparticipants. The data for this chart come from the ERS report, Food Spending Patterns of Households Participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Findings from USDA’s FoodAPS, released on August 16, 2017.

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.

Percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits in 2016 varied across States, reflecting differences in need and program policies

Monday, June 26, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) served an average of 44.2 million people per month in fiscal 2016. The percent of Americans participating in the program declined from 15.0 in 2013 to 13.7 in 2016, marking the third consecutive year of a decline in the percent of the population receiving SNAP. Between 2015 and 2016, 41 States and the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits, while 9 States experienced no change or increases. The percent of State populations receiving SNAP benefits ranged from a low of 5.8 in Wyoming to a high of 22.6 in New Mexico, reflecting differences in need and in program policies. Southeastern States have a particularly high share of residents receiving SNAP benefits, with participation rates of 15.0 to 19.5 percent. Kentucky had the largest decline from 2015 to 2016, with the percent of residents receiving SNAP decreasing from 17.4 to 15.0 percent. This chart appears in ERS’s Selected charts Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, April 2017.

SNAP participation more closely linked to poverty than unemployment rate

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the Nation’s largest food assistance program. In an average month in fiscal 2016, 44.2 million people—about 14 percent of the Nation’s population—participated in the program. Unlike other food and nutrition assistance programs that target specific groups, SNAP is available to most needy households with limited income and assets, subject to certain work and immigration status requirements. As a means-tested program, the number of people eligible for SNAP is inherently linked to the health of the economy. The share of the population receiving SNAP benefits generally tracks the poverty rate and, to lesser degrees, the unemployment rate and the poverty rate for children under age 18. Improvement in economic conditions during the early stage of recovery may take longer to be felt by lower educated, lower wage workers who are more likely to receive SNAP benefits, resulting in a lagged response of SNAP participation to a reduction in the unemployment rate. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape, FY 2016 Annual Report, released on March 30, 2017.

SNAP participation and per person benefits both fell in 2016

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the cornerstone of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs, accounting for 69 percent of all Federal food and nutrition assistance spending in fiscal 2016. An average 44.2 million people per month participated in the program in fiscal 2016, 3 percent fewer than the previous fiscal year and the third consecutive year of declining participation. Fiscal 2016’s caseload was the fewest SNAP participants since fiscal 2010 and 7 percent less than the 47.6 million participants per month in fiscal 2013. The decrease in 2016 was likely due in part to the country’s continued economic growth as well as the reinstatement in many States of the time limit—3 months of SNAP benefits within any 3-year period—on participation for able-bodied adults without dependents. Per person benefits averaged $125.51 per month in fiscal 2016, 1 percent less than the previous fiscal year and 6 percent less than the historical high of $133.85 set in fiscal 2011. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2016 Annual Report, released on March 30, 2017.

An increasing number of States allow online SNAP applications and e-signatures

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the largest of USDA?s 15 nutrition assistance programs, providing monthly benefits for purchasing food to those who apply for the program and meet the income and other eligibility criteria. In fiscal year 2012, 46.6 million Americans were enrolled in the program during an average month. ERS?s SNAP Policy Database provides monthly (January 1996-December 2011) information on policies in the 50 States and the District of Columbia that may influence SNAP participation. For example, online applications allow individuals to complete and submit an application for SNAP benefits over the Internet. Applicants then undergo an interview at the SNAP office or over the phone to complete the application process. In many States with online applications, the applicant is allowed to submit the application with an electronic or ?e-signature,? instead of mailing a supplemental form with an actual signature. Online applications first became available in January 2002 and were available in 34 States by December 2011. Twenty-four of these 34 States also allowed applicants to submit an e-signature. The State-level information contained in the database can facilitate research on factors that influence SNAP participation and on SNAP's effects on a variety of outcomes, such as food spending and health. The information for this chart can be found in ERS?s SNAP Policy Database.

In 2012, 91 percent of SNAP benefits went to households with incomes at or below the Federal poverty line

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Federal eligibility rules for USDA?s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) stipulate that households must meet three financial criteria: gross income, net income, and asset limits. States using broad-based categorical eligibility criteria are allowed to eliminate the asset limit and increase the monthly gross income limit from 130 percent of the Federal poverty line up to 200 percent when determining SNAP eligibility. This new eligibility option is among the many legislative and regulatory efforts to simplify SNAP administration and increase program access, especially for low-income working families. During the discussions leading up to the Agricultural Act of 2014, concerns were raised that the broad-based categorical eligibility option had allowed assistance to expand beyond the poorest Americans. In 2012, 5.2 percent of SNAP households had incomes above 130 percent of the Federal poverty line?compared to 1.0 percent in 2000?and they received 1.5 percent of total SNAP benefits.? This chart and a discussion of other SNAP-related provisions of the 2014 Farm Act can be found in ?2014 Farm Act Maintains SNAP Eligibility Guidelines and Funds New Initiatives? in the July 2014 issue of ERS?s Amber Waves magazine.

Participation in USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program varies by State

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the cornerstone of USDA's nutrition assistance programs. The program accounted for 73 percent of all Federal food and nutrition spending in fiscal 2011, serving an average of 44.7 million people per month, or about 14 percent of Americans. The percent of the population receiving SNAP benefits to purchase food varies across States reflecting differences in need, as well as differences in program policies. The Southeast stands out as a region where all States have a high percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits, with participation rates of 16 to 21 percent. In 2011, 6.4 percent of Wyoming's population received SNAP benefits-the only State with less than 8 percent of the population receiving SNAP benefits. In 2009, there were 12 States with less than 8 percent of their populations participating in SNAP. This chart is one of the new maps in ERS's Food Environment Atlas, updated on June 29, 2012.

Inflation-adjusted value of SNAP benefits declined; food insecurity increased from 2009-11

Thursday, September 1, 2016

In 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Congress temporarily increased the maximum benefit levels of USDA?s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by 13.6 percent, with the intention that, over time, rising food prices would eliminate the ARRA increase. By 2011, inflation had cut the value of the ARRA increase by about half and the percentage of SNAP-recipient households with very low food security had increased to 13.8 percent from 12.1 percent in 2009. Very low food security is characterized by reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns. Low-income non-SNAP households did not experience worsening food security during this time. ERS analyses of the pre- and post-ARRA periods suggest that future increases in the maximum SNAP benefit of 10 percent would reduce the number of SNAP households with very low food security by about 22 percent, and reducing the maximum benefit by 10 percent would increase that number by about 29 percent. This chart appears in Effects of the Decline in the Real Value of SNAP Benefits from 2009 to 2011, ERR-151, August 2013.

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