Editors' Pick: Charts of Note 2020

This chart gallery is a collection of some of the best Charts of Note from 2020.  These charts were selected by ERS editors as those worthy of a second read because they provide context for the year’s headlines or share key insights from ERS research.

Child food insufficiency in mid-July 2020 varied by State

Monday, January 4, 2021

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, children were food insecure at times during 2019 in 6.5 percent of U.S. households with children. For more information on ERS’s food security research, see the Food Security in the U.S. topic page on the ERS website.

This Chart of Note was originally published August 25, 2020. The estimate for food security of children in U.S. households with children has been updated to reflect the most recent data.

U.S. agricultural imports have grown significantly over last quarter century

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Over the last quarter century, the United States has become one of the largest agricultural importers in the world. During this time, imports have grown significantly from $27 billion in 1994 to $128 billion in 2019. The role of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994—superseded by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in July 2020—has played a central role in this surge, with U.S. imports from the North American region increasing more than six-fold from $8.2 billion in 1994 to $52 billion in 2019. The volume of imports from all regions has risen across all commodities, but consumer-oriented products, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, beef products, and wine and beer products have led the increase. Even as overall imports have grown, imports from Europe, as well as South America and the Caribbean, have dipped, reflecting the decreasing share of berries and other fruits provided by these countries, as well as additional sources of alcoholic beverages imported from USMCA trading partners. These charts are drawn from the Economic Research Service product, U.S. Agricultural Trade at a Glance.

This Chart of Note was originally published on Monday, August 31, 2020.

Smaller farms often rely on the principal operators and their spouses for labor, while larger farms rely on hired labor

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The U.S. agricultural workforce consists of a mixture of two groups of workers: (1) self-employed farm operators and their family members, referred to as “unpaid labor” because their remuneration comes out of farm profits rather than a wage; and (2) paid labor such as hired and contract workers that receive wages. Overall, between 2014 and 2018, U.S. farms used about 59 percent operator, spouse, and family labor, compared to 41 percent paid labor. However, farms of different sizes relied on different mixes of labor. Principal operators and their spouses provided most of the labor hours (76 percent) used on small farms, those with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) under $350,000. That share fell to 43 percent on midsize farms (GCFI between $350,000 and $999,999), 17 percent on large farms (GCFI between $1 million and $4,999,999), and 2 percent on very large farms (GCFI of $5 million or more). Large and very large farms relied most on hired labor, which provided 64 and 74 percent of the labor hours on those farms, respectively. By comparison, hired labor provided about 12 percent of labor hours on small farms and 39 percent on midsize farms. Contract laborers were important on very large farms (particularly in fruit and vegetable operations), contributing 20 percent of labor hours. This chart updates data found in the March 2018 ERS report, Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture.

This Chart of Note was originally published on Wednesday, July 8, 2020.

Retail prices for nearly all food-at-home categories up in June 2020 compared with June 2019

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Grocery store prices were 5.6 percent higher in June 2020 compared with June 2019. Retail prices increased for all food-at-home categories except for fresh fruits. Many of these increases were influenced by the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic disrupted supply chains of several commodities—and affected consumers’ food spending patterns—which put upward pressure on wholesale and retail food prices. The spring 2020 closing of schools and stay-at-home orders resulted in the dairy industry having to shift from supplying products for schools and restaurants to supplying products for grocery stores and other food retailers (food at home). Adapting to this transition placed upward pressure on retail prices for dairy products, which rose by 5.1 percent from June 2019 to June 2020. Beef also experienced supply chain disruptions: decreased slaughter volumes due to COVID-19 led to a bottleneck in supply which boosted prices. Retail beef and veal prices in June 2020 were 25.1 percent higher than in June 2019. Much of this increase occurred after February 2020. Other commodities also saw increases in retail prices. Egg prices increased 12.1 percent since June 2019, and pork and poultry prices increased 11.8 and 8.7 percent, respectively. The data for this chart come from the Economic Research Service’s Food Price Outlook data product, updated July 24, 2020.

This Chart of Note was originally published on Monday, July 27, 2020.

Blueberry imports from Latin America increase to meet year-round demand

Monday, December 28, 2020

U.S. demand for fresh blueberries reached an all-time high in 2019, and to meet this increased demand, both domestic and global production of fresh blueberries have trended upward. U.S production for the fresh market climbed 284 percent since 2000 to almost 372 million pounds in 2019. Blueberries have different production seasons across different regions throughout the year. To support year-round demand of consumers, imports have grown and now not only supply blueberries in the off-season months of domestic production, but increasingly in the in-season months as well. U.S. fresh blueberry imports rose to a record 472 million pounds in 2019, up 1,177 percent since 2000. Latin America, led by Peru, emerged as the major supplier of U.S. blueberry imports. Fresh blueberry imports from Peru surpassed those from Chile and accounted for 30 percent of the imports in 2019. Imports from Chile accounted for almost 30 percent of fresh blueberry imports in 2019, while imports from Mexico accounted for 19 percent. Other top suppliers, Canada and Argentina, exported smaller quantities to the United States. Countries exporting to the United States during U.S. production’s off-season have expanded their seasons to capture market share and higher prices, increasing competition for some U.S. producers. This chart and detail appear in the Commodity Feature in the Economic Research Service’s Fruit and Tree Nut Outlook, March 2020.

This Chart of Note was originally published on Monday, September 21, 2020.

All counties with extreme poverty in 2018 were rural (nonmetro) counties

Thursday, December 24, 2020

In 2018, the United States had 664 high-poverty counties, where an average of 20 percent or more of the population had lived below the Federal poverty level on average over 2014-18. The majority were rural (78.9 percent, or 524 counties). These high-poverty counties represented about one of every four rural counties, compared with about one of every ten urban counties. Fifteen of the 664 counties were extreme poverty areas, where the poverty rate was 40 percent or greater. The extreme poverty areas were also persistent poverty counties, with poverty rates of at least 20 percent over the past 30 years. In 2018, all of the extreme poverty counties were in rural America. These counties are not evenly distributed, but rather are geographically concentrated and disproportionately located in regions with above-average populations of racial minorities. Several extreme poverty counties, for instance, were found in Mississippi, including four counties where there has historically been a high incidence of poverty among the African-American population. These counties were also found in South Dakota, with six counties where Native Americans made up more than 50 percent of the population. This chart appears on the Economic Research Service topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2020. It is also in the May 2020 Amber Waves article, “Extreme Poverty Counties Found Solely in Rural Areas in 2018.”

This Chart of Note was originally published on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.

Food at home’s share of total food spending hit a high of 66 percent in April 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The share of U.S. food expenditures occurring at grocery stores, supercenters, and other food-at-home retailers typically displays a consistent seasonal pattern. U.S. consumers devote relatively more money to food-at-home spending in the winter months—a time of Thanksgiving and holiday gatherings. The summer months see the highest share of spending at food-away-from-home places such as restaurants, cafeterias, and other eating-out places. While seasonal patterns have stayed constant until 2020, the share of total food spending dedicated to food at home has not. In 1998, food at home’s share was above 55 percent of total food spending throughout the year. Ten years later, 2008 saw the share of food spending devoted to food at home decrease a few percentage points despite the Great Recession of 2007-2009. In 2018, food at home’s share was below 50 percent in all but the winter months. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended past seasonal trends and expanded food at home’s share of total food spending. Food at home in August 2020 accounted for 54 percent of total food spending, after peaking at 66 percent in April 2020. The data for this chart come from the Economic Research Service’s Food Expenditure Series data product, updated October 16, 2020.

This Chart of Note was originally published on Wednesday, October 28, 2020.

Destinations of U.S. agricultural exports have shifted over last quarter century

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The United States is the world’s second largest agricultural trader after the European Union. U.S. agricultural exports have grown significantly over the last quarter century, from $46.1 billion in 1994 to $136.7 billion in 2019. The elimination of agricultural trade barriers as a result of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)—superseded by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in July 2020—nearly quadrupled exports (by value) to Canada and Mexico. Coinciding with policy developments, rising household incomes and changing trade policies in developing East and Southeast Asia have driven export growth, especially for China, whose share of U.S. agricultural exports more than quadrupled from 3 percent during 1994-2000 to 14 percent during 2010-19. Meanwhile, there has been a sharp decline in the share going to Europe and high-income East Asia, particularly Japan. These charts are drawn from the Economic Research Service product, U.S. Agricultural Trade at a Glance.

This Chart of Note was originally published on Wednesday, July 29, 2020.

H-2A positions increased fivefold between fiscal 2005 and 2019

Monday, December 21, 2020

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program provides a legal means to bring foreign-born workers into the United States on a temporary basis. Workers employed on an H-2A visa are allowed to remain in the U.S. for up to 10 months at a time. Employers must demonstrate, and the U.S. Department of Labor must certify, that efforts to recruit U.S. workers were not successful. Employers must also pay a region-specific minimum wage, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, which is set at the average wage for crop and livestock workers in that region in the prior year, as measured in USDA’s Farm Labor Survey. In addition, employers must pay for application and visa processing fees, provide housing for their H-2A workers, and pay for their domestic and international transportation. One of the clearest indicators of the scarcity of farm labor is the fact that the number of H-2A positions requested and approved has increased fivefold in the past 14 years—from just over 48,000 positions certified in fiscal 2005 to nearly 258,000 in fiscal 2019. The average duration of an H-2A certification in fiscal 2019 was 5.3 months, implying that the 258,000 positions certified represented about 114,000 full-year equivalents. The impact of this year’s shelter-in-place restrictions due to COVID-19 are not reflected in the data discussed. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for Farm Labor, updated April 2020.

This Chart of Note was originally published on Friday, May 22, 2020.