Racial and Social Equity Research Resources
ERS research related to racial and social equity primarily occurs in two major program areas:
- Food access, food security, and nutrition assistance, and
- Rural and farm income related research.
The following are ERS resources, publications and research related to both program areas.
Food Access, Food Security, and Nutrition Assistance
ERS has a robust research program related to food access, food security, and nutrition assistance that points to areas of inequity and ways that policies and programs can address equity concerns. Some of ERS’ research tracks or monitors equity issues, like trends and disparities in food insecurity. Other research aims to identify the impacts of USDA’s programs on policies across households and individuals to improve equity outcomes.
Provides information on a neighborhood or community’s access to food stores that offer a variety of healthy and affordable food. Users can map census tracts in the United States by their income status and food store accessibility. Users may also download data to analyze food access by State, county, and additional demographic information such as race and ethnicity.
USDA monitors the extent and severity of food insecurity in U.S. households through an annual, nationally representative survey sponsored and analyzed by USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS). This report presents statistics from the survey that cover household food security, food expenditures, and use of Federal nutrition assistance programs in 2021. The report includes statistics on food security by demographic characteristics including household composition, race/ethnicity, and income.
This report presents results from ERS’s International Food Security Assessment (IFSA) analysis utilizing information on domestic prices and consumer responsiveness to changes in prices and incomes for 77 low- and middle-income countries.
The dataset from the annual International Food Security Assessment report includes regional and sub-regional level data for the demand for grains (food and non-food), grain production, and the implied additional grain supply requirement (IASR) for the current year and 10-years out.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, ERS researchers have tracked food sufficiency rates using data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. Very low and low food sufficiency have affected specific segments of the U.S. population, such as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander households and American Indian and Alaskan Native households, more than others.
Nutrition security is an emerging topic in Federal food assistance and nutrition policy discussions. It encompasses several aspects of nutrition—including acquisition, consumption, and education. Nutrition security and food security are closely linked. This page provides links to selected ERS resources on this topic. Many of these studies focus on equity-related outcomes, or special populations of concern for discussions of equity.
This page lists ERS publications and research related to food security.
This page provides interactive charts on various aspects of food security including demographic characteristics, education, employment, and disability status.
USDA’s domestic food and nutrition assistance programs aim to improve equity outcomes by providing millions of low-income individuals access to safe, healthy, and nutritious foods. As the primary source for economic studies of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs, ERS research has shown that:
- School meal foods improve diet quality for food-insecure school children and participation in USDA’s National School Lunch Program reduces food insecurity.
- Increases in SNAP benefit amounts reduce food insecurity. SNAP also contributes to the health of local economies, especially rural economies, during economic downturns.
- WIC improves nutrition and dietary intake among participating children, and increased breastfeeding rates among WIC participants would lead to improvements in morbidity and mortality.
These policy datasets provide insight into the variation of food and nutrition assistance program policies among states and how this impacts equity in program access and program outcomes.
Models and measures developed by ERS researchers, such as the SNAP multiplier and the SNAP Policy Index Interactive Tool, and investments in data and collaborative research programs help to quantify the impact of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs on equity outcomes.
Rural and Farm Income Related Research
Many parts of Rural America have experienced substantial environmental, economic, and health-related stress in recent decades. Racial and ethnic minority farmers as well as minorities in the overall rural population often face additional vulnerability to these sources of stress as an historical legacy of discrimination. ERS rural research and analysis seeks to identify rural disadvantaged populations and communities, measure the extent and severity of socioeconomic stress, and illuminate the factors associated with these conditions.
ERS research has contributed to a deeper understanding of the extent and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in the rural U.S. Both the 2020 and 2021 editions of Rural America at a Glance focused on pandemic trends and their effect on health and economic well-being. According to the latest report, nonmetro persistently poor counties led the nation with cumulative COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents starting in late September 2020.
Access to health care depends on the three pillars of affordability, availability, and willingness to seek care. USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS) researchers compared the availability of health care based on a county’s degree of urbanization. They found that during 2017–19 residents of the most rural counties may have had more difficulty finding and using health care services than residents living in metropolitan areas or more rural counties with population hubs. The most rural counties had fewer health care facilities and were more likely to have health professional shortage areas where there are too few practitioners to provide adequate care for area residents, the research showed.
ERS research has helped to understand health care access for self-employed individuals, their families, and their households in nonmetropolitan counties. According to the report findings, health insurance coverage rates and sources differ more by age and whether workers are self-employed than by whether they live in a metro or nonmetro location.
In addition to equity-related analyses of rural well-being, ERS also tracks trends in rural economic growth and the factors associated with growth such as infrastructure development. For example, as reported in Rural America at a Glance, 2021, only 63% of rural residents in persistent poverty counties had moderate- or high-speed broadband available in their census blocks, compared to 90% of all U.S. residents. Persistently poor counties in the Deep South and Southwest had particularly low internet availability.
Rural Poverty & Other Indicators of Well Being
Since the 1990s, beginning, socially disadvantaged, and limited resource farmers and ranchers in the United States have been eligible to receive benefits from a variety of Farm Act programs. ERS research examines the characteristics of these targeted farm operators, the farms they operate, and their households; their participation in agricultural commodity, conservation, or loan programs; and related topics, such as the number and characteristics of female farm operators.
The aging of the population of U.S. farmers, increasing concentration of farmland ownership, and competition for land from urban and environmental uses may have implications for land available for beginning or socially disadvantaged (SDA) producers. Beginning and SDA producers may have fewer financial resources or face other constraints when buying or otherwise accessing land to enter farming or expand their farm operation. This report examines factors influencing land access to beginning and SDA farmers using survey, census, and administrative data.
ERS monitors and reports on key well-being indicators in Rural America, including poverty and income, employment and earnings, education, and health. Rural America at a Glance is the agency’s flagship annual report on long-term socioeconomic trends as well as emerging issues. The most recent edition of Rural America, published in November 2022, focused on population trends, the changing structure of economic sectors, the labor force, and job growth in rural areas.
Researchers at ERS have developed a rich array of county-based economic and policy typologies for statistical and program purposes. One of the most widely used types is the designation of persistent poverty, defined as a poverty rate exceeding 20 percent over the past 30 years. Persistently poor counties are overwhelmingly rural and geographically clustered; these clusters are further identified by concentrations of specific racial and ethnic groups. This Amber Waves article updates ongoing analysis of these geographic/racial patterns.
Recent research on racial and ethnic disparities in educational attainment shows that in rural areas of the country, ethnic and racial disparities persist in education, according to data from the decennial Census and the American Community Survey. The research shows that Hispanic, Black, and American Indian/Alaskan native groups continue to have lower rates of educational attainment than Whites.