Nearly 11% of Americans reported sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the past seven days, according to Census Bureau estimates from mid-September.
Food insecurity is a national issue, but it varies significantly among demographics, with Black Americans, 25- to 39-year-olds, households with incomes of less than $25,000 and those without high school diplomas facing the biggest obstacles to putting food on the table. These statistics reflect the broader trend of rising income equality in the U.S.
To get a close look at this phenomenon, MagnifyMoney researchers analyzed regional data to find which states have the highest percentage of adults going hungry.
Looking at each state’s data tells a story of hunger from coast to coast. However, food insecurity rates look starkly different when you break them down by age, race, education and household income. Below, you can see the percentage of people in each demographic who said they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat.
Those ages 25 to 39 are struggling the most, with 13.8% saying they don’t always have enough to eat. Previous MagnifyMoney research found that 63% of this age group who have tapped into retirement savings amid the coronavirus pandemic used the funds to pay for groceries.
Next were those ages 40 to 54, 12.8% of whom are facing food insecurity. Those ages 18 to 24 were right behind at 12.7%. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds have been hit particularly hard by unemployment during the pandemic, which could be making it difficult for them to pay for food.
Nearly 19% of Black Americans reported they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat over that seven-day period — more than triple the rate of Asian Americans and more than double the rate of white Americans who lacked food.
Substantial job losses among people of color during the coronavirus crisis may explain why higher rates of Black and Latino Americans haven’t been able to stock their pantries easily. Black and Latino Americans had August 2020 unemployment rates totaling 13.0% and 10.5%, respectively.
Just about 1 in 4 who haven’t graduated high school said they didn’t have enough to eat, compared with 3.4% who’ve received a bachelor’s degree and reported the same. Just under 14% of those who finished high school (or earned a GED) were experiencing hunger at least sometimes, if not often, while the same was true for about 1 in 10 who had some college education.
This amplifies how education affects income. According to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau data, those who’ve earned a bachelor’s degree take home $24,388 more yearly on average than those who haven’t earned a degree beyond high school, potentially giving them more budgetary flexibilities for expenses.
It should come as little surprise that wealthier Americans can more easily put food on the table than low-income families. Among those earning less than $25,000 a year, 28.3% were food insecure, compared with 9.3% of people making $50,000 to $74,999 and 0.6% of those earning at least $200,000 and above.
While food insecurity levels varied quite a bit among people of different household incomes, the amount of money they spend on food didn’t fluctuate as much. People in households with incomes less than $75,000 spent between $188.76 and $202.91 on food prepared and eaten at home in the previous seven days. For food outside the home in that same period, those earning less than $75,000 spent between $74.84 and $78.91, or about $50 less than what was spent by households earning $200,000 and up.
Access to financing also helps paint a picture of who’s facing the biggest difficulties getting enough to eat. Nearly 4 in 10 who have turned to friends or family for money recently are food insecure.
While government programs are available for those in need, they don’t always provide enough money to cover food expenses. Just about 32% of people who’ve used benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the seven-day period said they lack enough food sometimes or often. Among people relying on unemployment insurance to cover expenses, 17.7% haven’t had enough to eat.
Lastly, 14.9% who’ve had to use money from savings or selling assets to meet their spending needs sometimes or often don’t have enough to eat.
Some families are finding that they need to choose between keeping a roof over their head and eating amid the pandemic — if they can afford either. More than half of those who are certain they can’t pay their rent or mortgage don’t have enough to eat.
The food insecurity rate drops to almost 29% among people who have a slight confidence in covering housing. But even a small number (7.9%) who are caught up on rent or mortgage payments still have a hard time putting enough food on the table.
State government websites, community groups and religious organizations often provide information on food pantries, where consumers can get free groceries. Some food pantries also provide other items, such as notebooks and pencils, that can help families reserve more of their budget for other essentials, including rent and utilities.
Many soup kitchens offer nutritionally balanced hot meals for those in need. Some even provide delivery service, which can come in handy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides participants with an electronic benefit card they can use to pay for food. The benefits may be used at participating businesses, including grocery stores and farmers’ markets, as well as for online grocery orders at certain retailers. A household’s gross monthly income usually needs to be at no more than 130% of the poverty line to be eligible for SNAP. Contact a local SNAP office to apply.
WIC, short for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, helps new or expectant moms, as well as their children up to age 5, get nutritious food, either with an electronic benefit transfer card or via checks or vouchers. Eligible consumers must meet certain income guidelines, residency requirements and be at “nutritional risk,” as determined by a health professional. Consumers can apply for WIC through state agencies.
Children from low-income households can get free or reduced-price meals at schools and child care centers through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. As part of its COVID-19 pandemic response, the U.S. has extended its summer meal program through as late as the end of 2020 and made it more flexible, allowing parents and guardians to pick up meals for kids from nearly 80,000 sites across the U.S.
Researchers analyzed data from the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey conducted Sept. 2 to 14, 2020, to track the number of people who reported either sometimes or often not having enough to eat in the past seven days.