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Food insecurity in late 2020 most prevalent among those unable to look for work because of pandemic

Friday, November 19, 2021

Food insecurity among U.S. households was substantially higher in late 2020 when people were unable to work or were prevented from looking for work because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The annual Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement, sponsored by USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS), collected information on food security among the Nation’s households in December 2020. The survey included questions about effects of the pandemic on work activities during the prior 4 weeks. Households experiencing food insecurity in the 30 days before the survey reported they had difficulty providing enough food for all their household members because of a lack of resources. From mid-November to mid-December 2020, households with a reference person (an adult household member in whose name the housing unit is owned or rented) who was not employed (unemployed or not in the labor force) had a higher prevalence of food insecurity at 8.0 percent compared with all U.S. households (5.7 percent). Those with an employed reference person had a lower food insecurity prevalence at 4.2 percent. For households with a reference person unable to work because of the pandemic, the prevalence of food insecurity was 16.4 percent, substantially higher than the national average of 5.7 percent. The same is true for households that had an unemployed reference person who was prevented from looking for work because of the pandemic, with a food insecurity prevalence of 20.4 percent. The statistics appearing in this chart are included in a table in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2020, released September 8, 2021. A similar figure appears in ERS interactive charts on food security.

U.S. household food insecurity remained unchanged in 2020

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

In 2020, 10.5 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at least some time during the year, meaning they had difficulty providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources. That prevalence of food insecurity was unchanged from 2019, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), which monitors the food security status of households in the United States through an annual nationwide survey. Of the 10.5 percent of households that were food insecure, 3.9 percent experienced very low food security, not significantly different from 4.1 percent in 2019. In households with very low food security, the food intake of one or more household members is reduced and their eating patterns are disrupted at times because the household lacks money and other resources for obtaining food. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic began in the United States in 2020 and affected public health and the economy. Policy makers modified existing nutrition assistance programs and created new programs, and charitable organizations provided additional aid. Research studies conducted before the pandemic have shown that such increases can reduce food insecurity. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2020, released September 8, 2021.

Food insecurity among U.S. children increased in 2020

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) monitors the prevalence of food insecurity in U.S. households and breaks out data for households with children as well as children within these households. In 2020, the prevalence of food insecurity increased among U.S. households with children even though food insecurity for all households—those with and without children—remained about the same as the previous year. In 2020, 14.8 percent of households with children were food insecure, up from 13.6 percent in 2019. Children were food insecure in 7.6 percent of households with children in 2020, up from 6.5 percent in 2019. Households with food insecurity among children were classified as such because they were unable at times to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. ERS researchers also found an increase in the most severe category of food insecurity—very low food security among children. In 2020, the share of households with children with very low food security among children was 0.8 percent, up from 0.6 percent in 2019. In that group, households reported that at times during the year children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. Monitoring children’s food security helps inform and improve USDA’s federally funded child nutrition programs. This chart appears in the ERS report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2020, released September 8, 2021.

Super stores retain the largest share of SNAP redemptions since 2006, while expanding participants’ purchasing power and maintaining store availability

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Since 2006, super stores received more USDA, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemptions than any other type of store, totaling half of all redemptions in 2016. SNAP participants can redeem benefits to buy food items at super stores, supermarkets, grocery stores, and other types of approved food retailers. Super stores are defined as large food and drug combination stores and mass merchandisers under a single roof as well as membership retail/wholesale hybrids offering a limited variety of products in warehouse-type environments. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers examined the effects of entrant super stores on the survival of existing SNAP-approved stores and their revenue from redeemed benefits. Researchers found that when one super store entered a market area from 1994 to 2015, about 0.25 supermarkets and 0.05 other smaller food retailers on average left over the first three years after entry. Overall store availability did not decline though, as the entry of one super store more than offset the loss of supermarkets and other smaller food retailers in the markets. The ERS researchers estimated that from 1994 to 2005, local supermarkets and other smaller food retailers annually lost $191,000 on average in SNAP redemptions for each super store entrant into their local market. That loss increased to $213,000 on average from 2005–15. At the same time, super stores gained much more in SNAP redemptions than was lost at local food retailers, leading the researchers to conclude that SNAP beneficiaries shifted purchases to super stores. Based on previous research showing that food is about 3 percent less costly at super stores, the researchers estimated that a shift of SNAP redemptions to super stores expanded the purchasing power of SNAP participants’ benefits by $108.6 million in 2015 (0.15 percent of total SNAP benefits and costs in 2015).This chart appears in the ERS’ Amber Waves article, “New Super Stores Slightly Expanded Purchasing Power for Participants in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” June 2021.

From 2005 to 2019, working-age veterans more likely to live in food-insecure households than similar nonveterans

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Working-age veterans were 7.4 percent more likely to live in a food-insecure household than similar working-age nonveterans from 2005 to 2019, according to research by the USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS). ERS economists used food security data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census to examine the relationship between food insecurity and prior military service. Food-insecure households had difficulty providing enough food for all its members because of a lack of resources. To reflect the strength of the association more closely between food insecurity and prior military service, ERS controlled for differences in individual and household-level characteristics associated with food insecurity among working-age adults, age 18-64. Examples of these differences include income, disability status, educational attainment, and race and ethnicity. From 2005 to 2019, before making these adjustments, 12.0 percent of working-age veterans and 13.5 percent of working-age nonveterans were estimated to live in food-insecure households. However, after controlling for differences, the average annual predicted prevalence of working-age veterans living in food-insecure households was 12.2 percent compared to 11.4 percent of working-age nonveterans. In addition, predictions show that working-age veterans were more likely to live in households with very low food security. This is a more severe range of food insecurity that involves the reduction of food intake for one or more household members and disruption of normal eating patterns. This information is drawn from the ERS report, “Food Security Among Working-Age Veterans,” released May 26, 2021.

Children in Black and Hispanic households experienced greater food insufficiency than other ethnicities during COVID-19 pandemic

Monday, May 10, 2021

On average, more than one in five Black non-Hispanic and Hispanic households with children reported that their children sometimes or often did not have enough to eat during the past week as of March 29, 2021. The Household Pulse Survey, which provides these food insufficiency estimates, was developed through a partnership with the U.S. Census Bureau to produce timely information on the economic and social effects of COVID-19 on U.S. households. Households were classified as having children with food insufficiency if the adult survey respondent said children in the household were not eating enough “sometimes” or “often” in the last 7 days because the household could not afford enough food. Up to 30.5 percent of Black non-Hispanic households with children experienced child food insufficiency during November 25–December 7, 2020, compared to 10.1 percent for White non-Hispanic households with children. Asian non-Hispanic and other non-Hispanic households with children experienced child food insufficiency at rates between these two groups. While the prevalence of child food insufficiency for all groups declined from peak levels by the end of March 2021, the disparities among ethnic groups remained. For more information on the Economic Research Service’s food security research, see the Food Security in the U.S. topic page on the website. See also the Food Sufficiency During the Pandemic trending topics page.

Updated Atlas allows users to compare low-income and low-supermarket access areas in 2015 and 2019

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The USDA, Economic Research Service’s (ERS) Food Access Research Atlas provides a map of neighborhoods with limited access to nutritious, affordable food for the entire United States. Limited access to high-quality, low-cost food may impede some consumers from achieving a healthy diet. The updated Atlas allows users to map low-income and low-supermarket access census tracts for 2019 and compare the results with those for 2015. Individuals can choose to display one or several of the measures of low-supermarket access that are based on residents’ distances from the nearest supermarket (more than 0.5 or 1 mile in urban areas or more than 10 or 20 miles in rural areas) and whether a substantial number of households have access to a vehicle. One measure considers a tract to be low-income and low-access (LILA) if it is low-income and contains a substantial number of vehicle-less households that live more than 0.5 miles from the nearest supermarket. Using this measure, the number of low-income and low-access census tracts in Pulaski County, Arkansas, for example, rose 4 percent from 2015 to 2019. Twenty-three percent of Pulaski County households lived in these tracts in 2019, including 6 percent who lived more than 0.5 miles from a supermarket and did not have a vehicle. This map was created using ERS’s Food Access Research Atlas, updated April 27, 2021.

Disabilities remain a strong risk factor for food insecurity

Monday, December 14, 2020

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was intended to provide opportunities to thrive for those with disabilities. But for some people with disabilities, barriers still exist to being able to afford adequate food. In 2019, 10.5 percent of all U.S. households were food insecure—that is, they struggled to put enough food on the table for all their household members. Adults who report being unable to work because of a disability have a high prevalence of food insecurity. Among U.S. households with an adult who was not in the labor force because of disability, 31.6 percent were food insecure in 2019. Among U.S. households that included an adult who reported a disability but was not out of the labor force due to a disability, 22.6 percent were food insecure. In contrast, 7.6 percent of households containing no adults with disabilities were food insecure in 2019. Households with adults out of the labor force because of disabilities were almost four times as likely to experience the more severe very low food security compared to U.S. households as a whole. Households with very low food security report cutting or skipping meals and not eating enough because there was not enough money for food. Households with low food security report avoiding substantial reductions or disruptions in food intake, in some cases by relying on a few basic foods. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves article, “Thirty Years After Enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Disabilities Remain a Risk Factor for Food Insecurity,” December 2020.

Prevalence of U.S. food insecurity in 2019 dipped below pre-Great Recession level for the first time

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) monitors the food security status of households in the United States through an annual nationwide survey. The most recent survey contains data collected in December 2019 for the year that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 89.5 percent of U.S. households were food secure, meaning they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. The remaining households (10.5 percent) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 4.1 percent that experienced very low food security. In households with very low food security, 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 2019 prevalence of food insecurity, at 10.5 percent, was below the 2018 prevalence of 11.1 percent; it continued to show a decline from a high of 14.9 percent in 2011 and was significantly below the 2007 pre-Great Recession level of 11.1 percent. The prevalence of very low food security was not significantly different in 2019 from in 2018, 4.1 percent compared to 4.3 percent, respectively. This chart appears in ERS’s report, Household Food Security in the United States in 2019, released September 9, 2020.

Child food insufficiency in mid-July 2020 varied by State

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

To track rapid changes in the U.S. economic landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the Economic Research Service (ERS) teamed up with the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and five other Federal agencies to produce the Household Pulse Survey. The survey ran from the week of April 23-28 to the week of July 16-21 in 2020. ERS researchers used a survey question asked during weeks 6 through 12 of the survey period about disruptions in the quantity of foods consumed by children to examine child food insufficiency for U.S. households. Households were classified as having children with food insufficiency if the survey respondent said that the children in the household were not eating enough “sometimes” or “often” in the last 7 days because the household could not afford enough food. The rate of child food insufficiency grew from a national average of 17.4 percent of U.S. households during June 4-9 to 19.9 percent at the survey’s end. During the final week of the survey, July 16-21, 18 States had child food insufficiency rates below 19.9 percent and 6 States had rates above the national average for July 16-21. The remaining 26 States and the District of Columbia had rates of food insufficiency statistically comparable to the national average. Child food insufficiency is similar in concept to the more detailed measure of “food insecurity among children” used in USDA’s annual assessments of food security to describe households that were unable at times to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. According to USDA’s latest food security statistics, an estimated 7.7 percent of U.S. children were food insecure at some time during 2018. For more information on ERS’s food security research, see the Food Security in the U.S. topic page on the ERS website.

Food insufficiency in mid-June 2020 higher in some States than others

Friday, July 10, 2020

To keep track of the rapid changes in the U.S. economic landscape due to COVID-19, researchers at the Economic Research Service (ERS)—along with those at five other Federal agencies—teamed up with the Census Bureau to produce the Household Pulse Survey, a weekly, online data collection that asks respondents about their current educational, employment, health, housing, and food-related situations. The survey began in the week of April 23, 2020 and will continue until the end of July 2020. ERS researchers used the most recent data available from the new survey (June 18–June 23) to examine food sufficiency for U.S. households. Food sufficiency is distinct but related to food security: like USDA’s food security measure, it can tell us about disruptions in the quantity of foods consumed in a household. Households were classified as being "food insufficient" if they sometimes or often in the last 7 days reported not having enough to eat. Food insufficiency is comparable to the classification of “very low food security” used in USDA’s annual assessments of food security. Nationally, 9.7 percent of U.S. households were food insufficient that week, similar to the 9.8-percent U.S. average during April 23–May 5. Fifteen States had food insufficiency rates below 9.7 percent and 4 States had rates above this national average. The remaining 31 States and the District of Columbia had rates of food insufficiency statistically comparable to the national average. According to USDA’s latest food security statistics, an estimated 4.3 percent of U.S. households experienced very low food security at some time during 2018 where the food intake of some household members was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted due to a lack of money or other resources. The data for this chart are drawn from the Census Household Pulse Survey. For more information on ERS’s food security research, see the Food Security in the U.S. topic page on the ERS website.

Food insecurity rates vary across States

Friday, May 8, 2020

USDA monitors the extent of food insecurity in U.S. households at the national and State levels through an annual U.S. Census Bureau survey. 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. Data for 2016-18 were combined to provide more reliable State statistics than one year alone would provide. The estimated prevalence of food insecurity during 2016-18 ranged from 7.8 percent of the households in New Hampshire to 16.8 percent in New Mexico with a national average of 11.7 percent. In 12 States, the prevalence of food insecurity was higher than the 2016-18 national average, and in 16 States, it was lower than the national average. In the remaining 22 States and the District of Columbia, differences from the national average were not statistically significant. This map appears in the Food Security and Nutrition Assistance section of the Economic Research Service’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials.

Among low-income households, nutrition scores of some dietary components are lower for those that are food-insecure

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

USDA monitors U.S. food security using a series of questions largely focused on whether a household can obtain sufficient quantities of food. However, the quality of foods acquired also affects personal wellbeing. USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) is unique among Federal surveys in that it collected information on both purchased foods and foods obtained for free, such as from food pantries and free school meals. Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers used FoodAPS data to examine the nutritional quality of a week’s worth of food at home—foods acquired at supermarkets, supercenters, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and food pantries. The researchers focused on low-income households. They used the Healthy Eating Index-2010, which summarizes how well a set of foods compares to recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, to assess diet quality. The index compiles scores for 12 components made up of specific food groups and subgroups. After controlling for individual- and household-level characteristics, only a handful of differences were associated with household food insecurity. For every 1,000 calories of food at home acquired, low-income food-insecure households acquired less total fruit, whole fruit, total protein, and seafood and plant proteins compared with low-income food-secure households. An extended version of this chart appears in “Food-Insecure Households Score Lower on Diet Quality Compared to Food-Secure Households,” in ERS’s March 2020 Amber Waves magazine.

Food insecurity among children most prevalent among single-mother households and low-income households in 2018

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

In 2018, one child or more was food insecure in 7.1 percent of U.S. households with children. These 2.7 million households with food insecurity among children were unable at one or more times during the year to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. However, food insecurity among children varied widely by household characteristics. Food insecurity among children was more than twice the national rate in female-headed households with children (15.9 percent), households with children headed by Black, non-Hispanic adults (14.8 percent), and low-income households with incomes below 185 percent of the Federal poverty line (16.5 percent). Food insecurity among children was also higher than the national average in households with children in principal cities of metropolitan areas (9.1 percent). This chart appears in the article, “Food Insecurity Among Children Has Declined Overall But Remains High for Some Groups,” in the December 2019 issue of the Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves magazine.

Food insecurity among children was at lowest recorded rate in 2018

Friday, February 28, 2020

Food-insecure households have difficulty providing enough food for all members due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. USDA measures food insecurity in households with children in several different ways. In 2018, 13.9 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure: in these households, someone was food insecure, but not necessarily the children. In a little over half of these households—7.1 percent of U.S. households with children—both children and adults were food insecure. Both of these indicators, food insecurity in households with children and food insecurity among children, were at their lowest levels since 1998. The prevalence of very low food security among children was 0.6 percent in 2018. In these households experiencing the more severe range of food insecurity, caregivers reported that children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. This chart appears in “Food Insecurity Among Children Has Declined Overall But Remains High for Some Groups” in the December 2019 issue of the USDA, Economic Research Service Amber Waves magazine.

Food-insecure households purchase less fruit than food-secure households

Friday, February 7, 2020

ERS researchers used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine purchases of fruit from supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers (food-at-home purchases) by two groups of low-income households: food-secure and food-insecure households. Food-secure households have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living; food-insecure households do not. The researchers looked at total fruit purchases (whole and juices) and whole fruit purchases. They converted household purchases to “per adult equivalents,” where household members are scaled by daily calorie requirements based on their age and sex using 2,000 calories as an adult equivalent. The conversion accounts for differences in household size and composition. The researchers found that low-income food-secure households purchased 7.1 cup equivalents of fruit per adult equivalent per week, versus the 3.6 cups purchased by low-income food insecure households. In terms of whole fruit, food-insecure households purchased just under 2 cup equivalents per adult equivalent per week, while food-secure households purchased 4 cups per adult equivalent. This chart appears in the August 2019 ERS report, Food Security and Food Purchase Quality Among Low-Income Households: Findings From the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS).

Food-insecure households spend less on food and acquire fewer calories than food-secure households

Friday, January 24, 2020

Household food insecurity—a lack of access to enough food for all household members to have healthy, active lives—is strongly correlated with a variety of costly, chronic illnesses and conditions in both adults and children. In a recent report, ERS researchers used data collected in USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine differences in spending on and calories acquired from food at home (food from large and small grocery stores, specialty stores, and food pantries) by two groups of low-income households—food-secure and food-insecure households. The researchers converted household spending and acquired calories to “per adult equivalents”, where household members are scaled by daily calorie requirements based on their age and sex using 2,000 calories as an adult equivalent. The conversion accounts for differences in household size and composition. The researchers found that low-income food-insecure households spent almost $13 less per adult equivalent per week on food at home, and they acquired 5,170 fewer calories per adult equivalent per week from purchased and free at-home foods than low-income food-secure households. Spending on and calories acquired from eating out places were similar for the two low-income groups. This chart appears in “Food-Insecure Households Spend Less and Acquire Less Food Per Week Than Food-Secure Households” in the October 2019 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.

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.

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