Fact of the Week: One in Seven U.S. Households Is Food Insecure
More than 17.5 million American households had trouble providing adequate food for everyone in their family at some point in 2013, according to new data released yesterday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service. Despite being one more year out of a recession that officially ended in 2009, the percentage of American households that are face these struggles are essentially unchanged from last year. The number of people struggling against hunger remains dramatically higher than it was before the Great Recession. In 2007, before the recession, 36.2 million people were in a food insecure household (12.2 percent). In 2013, 49 million faced hunger (15.8 percent).
Of the more than 49 million Americans who lived in a household whose members had difficulty affording adequate food last year, 15.8 million of them – one in five – were children. In fact, households with children were more likely to be food insecure: nearly 20 percent of households with children were considered to be food insecure, and more than 34 percent of households with children headed by a single woman were food insecure. Previous studies have found that children in food insecure homes are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems, higher hospitalization rates, more behavioral problems, and lower academic achievement.
Minorities also had higher rates of food insecurity: 26 percent of Black households and nearly 24 percent of Hispanic households lacked the resources to consistently provide enough food for all family members. And the problem was nationwide, ranging from North Dakota, where 8.7 percent of families struggled to Arkansas, where more than one in five families struggled with having enough food. Our friends at the Food Research and Action Center put together a chart showing food insecurity by state.
The report also found one-third of all food-insecure households had “very low food security,” meaning that at least some family members skipped meals or ate much smaller meals than were adequate due to a lack of resources. This rate also remains higher than before the recession hit.
One other notable fact from the report is that 62 percent of food-insecure households in the survey reported that in the previous month, they had received aid from one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs: SNAP/food stamps, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), or National School Lunch Program. As we noted in last week’s related Fact of the Week post on the number of Americans who rely on food pantries, SNAP funding was cut by $8.6 billion earlier this year, and funding for WIC has shrunk nearly 15 percent from FY2010 to FY2014. Many other nutrition programs have been cut as well.
At a time when food insecurity remains stubbornly high and our economy continues to leave too many behind, we need more investments in the programs like SNAP and WIC that help our neighbors from falling even deeper into food insecurity and hunger, not less.