USDA: More Americans food secure, but 11 percent still insecure
The 2018 prevalence of food insecurity in the United States declined, for the first time, to pre-recession (2007) levels, the Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service said in an annual report released Wednesday.
Anti-hunger groups said they were pleased there was a drop in food insecurity, but that the 11.1 percent of the population is still too high. They also noted that the Trump administration has proposals in the works that would make access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more difficult.
“An estimated 88.9 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the entire year in 2018, with access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members,” the study said. “The remaining households (11.1 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2017) were food insecure at least some time during the year, including 4.3 percent with very low food security (not significantly different from 4.5 percent in 2017), where the food intake of one or more household members was reduced and their eating patterns disrupted at times because the household lacked money and other resources for obtaining food.”
About 56 percent of food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps); Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the National School Lunch Program – during the month prior to the 2018 survey, USDA said.
Feeding America noted the decline was 0.7 percentage points from last year and that “there was a particularly large decline in food insecurity among households with children, which went from 15.7% in 2017 to 13.9% in 2018 and represents the lowest rate in at least 20 years.”
“While we are encouraged by the decline in food insecurity rates, the fact that more than 37 million Americans struggle to put food on the table is unacceptable,” said Kate Leone, chief government relations officer of Feeding America. “Additionally, the administration has proposed a rule change to SNAP that could jeopardize this progress. By its own estimates, the proposed rule would take SNAP benefits away from more than 3 million individuals and increase food insecurity. We urge the administration and Congress to protect SNAP.”
The Food Research & Action Center said, “The report reveals that the 2018 food insecurity rate was on par with the 2007 pre-recession level of 11.1 percent, which was already far too high. The nation’s most vulnerable populations – families with children, African-Americans, Hispanics, and those living in rural areas and the South – continue to disproportionately struggle to put food on the table. Food insecurity harms health, the ability to learn, and productivity, and the persistent high rates harm the nation’s economic and social strength.”
FRAC said key findings from the ERS report include the following:
The food insecurity rate for households with children (13.9 percent) was two-fifths higher than the rate for households without children (9.9 percent).
The rates of food insecurity were much higher for households headed by African-Americans (21.2 percent — two and a half times the rate for white non-Hispanic households) and Hispanics (16.2 percent — two times the rate for white non-Hispanic households).
Households in rural areas are experiencing considerably deeper struggles with hunger compared to those in metro areas, with higher rates of food insecurity overall (12.7 percent compared to 10.8 percent), and higher rates of very low food security (4.8 percent compared to 4.2 percent).
The food insecurity rate is highest in the South census region, followed by the Midwest, West, and Northeast.
The prevalence of food insecurity varied considerably by state, ranging from 7.8 percent in New Hampshire to 16.8 percent in New Mexico (for the three-year period of 2016-2018). Even in the best performing states, 1 in 13 households was food insecure.
Of the 10 most populous states, four had food insecurity rates higher than the national average of 11.7 percent from 2016-2018: Texas (14 percent), North Carolina (13.9 percent), Ohio (13.2 percent), and Michigan (12.9 percent).
Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, a nationwide advocacy and direct service organization, said, “It’s highly significant that, even in 2018, when the overall U.S. economy was still theoretically strong, more than 37 million of our fellow Americans couldn’t afford enough food. Hunger is unacceptable in any society, but it’s particularly outrageous in the United States, where, in the same year, the 400 richest Americans had a combined net worth of $2.9 trillion. The evidence is clear that we need to increase federal nutrition benefits, not slash them, as President Trump is now unilaterally trying to thwart the will of Congress to do.”
Lisa Davis, senior vice president of Share Our Strength, a group focused on children’s nutrition, said, “The number of kids living in food-insecure homes in the United States has been steadily declining since 2011, and today’s data show there is significant progress toward putting our nation on the path to end childhood hunger in the United States.
“This is great news which should be celebrated. This decline was possible thanks in large part to bipartisan efforts around the economic recovery, including the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, and work done to increase access to nutrition programs for adults and children alike. If we keep this momentum going, ending child food insecurity is within our reach.”
But Davis added, “We must not allow new policies proposed by the White House to undo nearly a decade of progress. Today, that risk is real.”
Davis noted that the White House has proposed eliminating Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE) from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a move which would end SNAP benefits for more than 3 million low-income people and put school meals in jeopardy for more than 500,000 children. At the same time, Davis said, the administration has proposed a “public charge” rule that she said is generating widespread fear among immigrant families that participating in programs that help feed their children will impact their ability to stay together in the United States.
Abby Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, said, “While we are encouraged by the downward trend in food insecurity numbers, we know they result from the effectiveness of federal nutrition assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). We are therefore deeply troubled by the administration’s recent proposed administrative changes that would upend safety net policies and programs. These proposals threaten to undo nearly a decade of progress for the hungry and poor.”
–The Hagstrom Report