The fight against hunger: the economy improves, but not for all children
There is good news and bad news to report when it comes to food insecurity among households with children, according to a new analysis released by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institute.
The good news: food insecurity in the U.S. continues to decline. The bad news: the rate remains higher than it was before the 2008 Great Recession.
This analysis, co-authored by Lauren Bauer, Fellow at the Hamilton Project and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University, is relevant today because of two competing Farm Bills pending in Congress.
One bill, approved on a narrow 213-211 vote in the House, includes stringent requirements for adults participating in the SNAP program. Experts say these requirements are actually meant to reduce the number of SNAP recipients enrolled in the program and would cause more than two million people in more than one million households to lose benefits or see them curtailed.
Another Farm bill, passed 86-11 by the Senate with strong bipartisan support, does not include the restrictions. The difference is key; if one million households lose benefits, it stands to reason that many children will be included, given that 43 percent of SNAP recipients are households with children.
The two competing versions of the farm legislation will now advance to a House-Senate conference committee.
The researchers found that despite economic growth across the country, food insecurity among households with children is 16.5 percent at the national level (or 12.9 million children lived in food insecure households in 2016), which is still above the pre-recession level.
The authors note that by many measures, the economy has recovered from the Great Recession. The unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in decades. In 2016, the poverty rate fell to 12.7 percent – nearly the same as its pre-recession levels.
But, they add, another important indicator of economic health, food insecurity, remains elevated over pre-recession rates despite the best labor market in more than a decade.
The authors explain that a household is considered food insecure if it does not have consistent access to adequate food due to a lack of money or other resources. Overall, the share of all households (those with children and those without) experiencing food insecurity is continuing to recover from its recession-era peak of 14.9 percent, and in 2016 fell to 12.3 percent. That is still above its pre-recession level of 11.1 percent.
But the numbers are worse when you look at households with children, an indication that children are at great risk when it comes to food insecurity.
At the peak of the Great Recession in 2009, 21.3 percent of households with children were food insecure. In 2016, 16.5 percent of households were food insecure, better than the 2009 numbers, but worse than the 2007 pre-recession level of 15.8 percent.
The authors wrote that not all states are equal when it comes to food insecurity. In 16 states, more than one in five children lived in food insecure households during the period of 2014 to 2016. In four states – Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and New Mexico — more than one in four children lived in food insecure households.
The authors close by noting that food insecurity increases during the summer months in households with children because children often lose access to school breakfast and school lunch. They recommend that Congress consider increasing SNAP benefits during the summer to households with children.