The recent $8.6 billion reduction in funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP over the next decade have led to much hand-wringing among those who work with low-income Americans. To that end, in this posting, I will address the issue of household food security in the United States from a USDA Economic Research Service publication from September 2013.
To help us understand the statistics, here are two definitions:
Low Food Security: lacking access to enough food to provide a healthy and active lifestyle for all members of a household.
Very Low Food Security: a reduced level of food intake by household members, sufficient to disrupt normal eating patterns.
Let's open with this graph showing the prevalence of both low and very low food insecurity among American households for the period from 1995 to 2012:
You'll notice that the level of food insecurity is essentially unchanged since 2008, however, there was a rather significant jump from between 10 and 11 percent between 1999 and 2001 to the current level of 14.5 percent in 2008 as the Great Recession took hold of the economy. That is a rather significant increase of 38 percent. In the period between 2007 and 2012, an additional 12.7 million Americans experienced food insecurity to some degree. In 2012, an estimated 14.5 percent of American households experienced food insecurity with 5.7 percent of American households experiencing very low food security. In total, 17.6 million households consisting of 48.9 million people in the United States had difficulty at some point in 2012 providing enough food for all household members. In total, 7 million households had very low food security. At some point during the year, households were unable to provide adequate nutritious food for their children in 10 percent or 3.9 million of the nation's households with children.
Here is a pie chart showing the national breakdown of United States households with children by food security status:
In total, about 8.29 million children lived in households in which one or more children was food insecure. This is up from 6.866 million children in 2001. As well, 977,000 children lived in households with very low food security among child family members, up from 420,000 in 2003.
Here are the groups of Americans that suffer from higher than average rates of food insecurity:
1.) Households with children
2.) Households with children under the age of six
3.) Households with children headed by a single woman or man
4.) Black households
5.) Hispanic households
6.) Households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty level
Rates of food insecurity were lower than the national average for:
1.) Households with married couples with children
2.) Households with more than one adult and no children
3.) Households with elderly persons
4.) White, non-Hispanic households
5.) Households headed by non-Hispanics of other or multiple races
6.) Households with incomes above 185 percent of the poverty line
Geographically, the prevalence of food insecurity was highest in the South (16 percent), intermediate in the West (14.4 percent) and Midwest (14.2 percent) and lowest in the Northeast (11.9 percent). Among states for the period between 2010 and 2012, Mississippi had the highest rate of food insecurity at 20.9 percent and Virginia had the lowest rate at 3.2 percent.
It is interesting to see that the world's "have" nation has a rather substantial population of people, particularly children, that are suffering from food insecurity. With SNAP providing assistance to 42 percent of households that are food insecure, the program obviously provides a key bridge between going hungry and getting sufficient food to ensure a relatively healthy life.