The Pandemic Recession Has Pushed A Further 9.8 Million Americans Into Food Insecurity

The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed hardship on millions of vulnerable Americans through unemployment and reduced work hours. And this has increased food insecurity  across the nation.

There is no official figure yet for how many more families are struggling to provide regular meals around the table – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s next annual report on food insecurity, defined as a lack of access to sufficient food due to limited financial resources, won’t be out until the fall.


But for me as an academic who has long tracked food insecurity trends, working out the increase in the number of people affected and projecting what will happen next is important. By understanding this, experts can work out whether what is occurring during the pandemic is likely to follow – or breaks with – previous patterns during and after economic recessions.

To project what has happened to food insecurity under the pandemic, colleagues at Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks, and I used a model underlying the nonprofit’s Map the Meal Gap study. In particular, it looks at how changes in poverty and unemployment at a local level influenced food insecurity.

Our latest projection shows that the overall food insecurity rates rose sharply, from 10.9% in 2019 to 13.9% in 2020. In terms of people, that means a rise from 35.2 million food insecure Americans in 2019 to 45 million in 2020.

An addition 4.3 million children became food insecure over the same period, rising to 15 million in total. That represents an increase in the food insecurity rate for children from 14.6% to 19.9%, or a change from 1 in 7 kids to 1 in 5.

Based on our projections, we believe that U.S. food insecurity will decline slightly in 2021 to 12.9% for the entire population, and 17.9% for children. The reasons for this expected decrease include the impact of relief checks for many Americans – which has restrained the growth of poverty – and the continued decline in the unemployment rate after initial sharp increases in March and April 2020.

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Disclosure: This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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