ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.
See also: Editor’s Pick 2017: Best of Charts of Note gallery.

Reset

SNAP households acquire about as many calories as other households but spend less

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Households may have similar food needs but different budgets with which to meet them. ERS researchers used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to estimate the number of calories acquired (purchased or obtained for free) and the money spent to get them for three groups: households participating in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), low-income non-SNAP households, and higher income non-SNAP households. Researchers adjusted for the age, gender, and number of household members using an adult equivalent measure. Average acquired calories per adult equivalent were similar for all three groups, but food expenditures were not. Expenditure estimates from FoodAPS data show that SNAP households spent roughly $37 less per adult equivalent per week on food than higher income non-SNAP households. SNAP households devoted less of their food dollars to purchases from restaurants and other away-from-home sources, and instead relied more on school meals and family and friends. For at-home foods, SNAP households may have visited lower priced stores or bought a different mix of foods to stretch their food budgets. This chart appears in the February 2018 Amber Waves article, "Supermarkets, Schools, and Social Gatherings: Where Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Other U.S. Households Acquire Their Foods Correlates with Nutritional Quality."

Number of stores authorized to accept SNAP benefits grew by over 50 percent in the last decade

Monday, March 19, 2018

In 2016, low-income participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) received an average of about $126 in benefits each month to purchase eligible food items in authorized retail food stores. To become an authorized SNAP store, retailers are required to meet various criteria based in part on the types of food offered for sale. As of September 2016, over a quarter million (260,115) food retailers were authorized to redeem SNAP benefits. From 2007 to 2013, the number of SNAP-authorized stores grew by 53 percent. This increase coincided with a sharp rise in the number of SNAP participants that was largely due to the economic downturn, including the Great Recession of 2007-09, which increased demand for food assistance. Much of the growth in the number of SNAP stores was the result of more convenience stores applying for and receiving authorization to accept SNAP benefits. The number of SNAP-authorized convenience stores doubled from 2007 to 2016. By 2016, convenience stores accounted for 45 percent of all SNAP-authorized stores, but these stores accounted for just 6 percent of SNAP redemptions. This chart is from "Eligibility Requirements for SNAP Retailers: Balancing Access, Nutrition, and Integrity" in ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, January 2018.

Decline in WIC participation persists

Friday, March 16, 2018

USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provides supplemental food, nutrition education, and health care referrals to low-income, nutritionally at-risk pregnant, breastfeeding, and postpartum women as well as infants and children up to age 5. In fiscal 2017, the program served an average of 7.3 million people per month, down 21 percent from its peak in fiscal 2010. For the 7th consecutive year, participation for all three major groups fell. The number of women, infants, and children participating in WIC each fell by 5-6 percent. Improving economic conditions in recent years have likely played a role in the participation decline. Since applicants must have incomes at or below 185 percent of poverty or participate in certain other assistance programs to be eligible, the number of people eligible for WIC is closely linked to the health of the U.S. economy. Falling WIC caseloads may also reflect the decline in the number of U.S. births. Since 2007, the number of births have fallen each year except in 2014. This chart appears in the ERS report, The Food Assistance Landscape: FY 2017 Annual Report, released on March 15, 2018.

Working-age adults comprise 44 percent of SNAP participants

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

In an average month in fiscal 2017, USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provided 42.1 million low-income Americans with benefits to purchase food at authorized food stores. The number of people receiving SNAP benefits has declined by 11.5 percent since the historical high of an average 47.6 million per month in fiscal 2013. In the 2016 fiscal year (the latest year for which demographic data are available), adults age 18-59 accounted for 44.1 percent of participants, children younger than age 5 accounted for 13.4 percent of participants, school-age children accounted for 30.7 percent of participants, and the elderly accounted for 11.8 percent of participants. The composition of SNAP participants, as well as the overall SNAP caseload, can be affected by both changing economic conditions and modifications to program requirements. The composition shifted after the 2007-09 recession, as more working-age adults became eligible for the program and applied for benefits. Working-age adults' share of the SNAP caseload increased from 42.1 percent in 2006 to 46.4 percent in 2013, and has declined each year since 2013. This chart is from ERS's data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

SNAP policy index captures trends in State policies for administering SNAP

Thursday, February 15, 2018

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the Nation’s largest food assistance program. For much of the program’s history, administration of SNAP was largely uniform across States. However, welfare reform legislation in 1996 and subsequent legislative and regulatory changes have allowed States increased flexibility to administer some components of the program. ERS researchers recently developed an index that reflects how accommodative, or encouraging, State policies are to enrolling individuals in SNAP. This SNAP policy index is composed of 10 State policies related to eligibility, ease of enrolling and participating, participation stigma, and outreach to attract new participants. The index ranges between 1 and 10, with a higher number indicating more accommodative policies are in place. For the Nation as a whole, the index grew steadily from 1997 to 2014, meaning that States tended to adopt policies encouraging enrollment. Between 1997 and 2000, policies that relaxed eligibility and reduced stigma played the largest roles in the rising index. After 2000, policies that made enrolling and remaining in the program easier played a larger role. This chart appears in the ERS report, "Using a Policy Index to Capture Trends and Differences in State Administration of USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program", released on February 5, 2018.

In 2016, 81 percent of SNAP benefits were redeemed in super stores and supermarkets

Friday, February 2, 2018

USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides participants with electronic benefits to purchase food in authorized retail food stores. In fiscal 2016, over $66 billion in SNAP benefits were redeemed, accounting for about 10 percent of the Nation’s spending on food at home. As of September 2016, 260,115 stores were authorized to accept SNAP. Convenience stores accounted for the largest share of SNAP stores (45 percent), but less than 6 percent of all SNAP benefits were redeemed in these smaller stores. Conversely, large super stores, which sell a wide variety of food and nonfood items, and supermarkets together accounted for only 14 percent of SNAP stores, but 81 percent of national SNAP redemptions. Super stores and supermarkets generally have a wider variety of foods and lower prices than smaller stores. Because SNAP benefits are for a fixed dollar amount, participants have an incentive to stretch their benefits by seeking out the best values when choosing where to spend their benefits. This chart appears in the ERS report, Design Issues in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Looking Ahead by Looking Back, released on January 25, 2018.

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.

Charts of Note header image for left nav