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household food security

Food Insecurity in U.S. Households Essentially Unchanged from 2013, but Down from 2011 High

USDA’s recently released annual report on the incidence and severity of food insecurity in American households marks 20 years of Federal statistics measuring U.S. food insecurity. This year’s report, presenting 2014 data, shows that 86.0 percent of American households were food secure throughout the entire year, meaning that all household members had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life. In 2014, 14.0 percent of U.S. households (17.4 million households) had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of financial or other resources. Food insecurity, essentially unchanged from 2013, is down from a high of 14.9 percent measured in 2011.  

Looking back over the last several years, the food insecurity rate, as expected, rose in 2008 with the recession. But the food insecurity rate has not returned to pre-recession levels. Research shows that while modest improvements in food security have accompanied declining unemployment, other changes in the economy, including higher food prices, appear to offset the effect of unemployment declines. These higher food prices, along with an increase in overall inflation, are key factors preventing food insecurity rates from any substantial decline. Another Economic Research Service (ERS) study found that, particularly for households receiving benefits from USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), higher local food prices were related to higher food insecurity.

Food Insecurity Among American Households - Surveying the Numbers

USDA’s latest report on food insecurity in America shows that the prevalence of food insecurity is down from a high of 14.9 percent of U.S. households in 2011 to 14.3 percent in 2013. This annual report takes a look at the number and types of households that had difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all their members due to a lack of financial or other resources. Back in 2007, about 11 percent of U.S. households were food insecure, but with the economic downturn in 2008, that rate had increased and remained relatively high.

Given improvements in employment and other economic indicators, some have wondered why food security has been slow to improve. A recent study by my colleagues and me at the Economic Research Service sheds light on this question. We found that while unemployment declined in 2012 and 2013, inflation and the price of food relative to other goods and services continued to increase. These increases offset improvements in food security that might have resulted from the decline in unemployment.  This study provides a useful backdrop to understanding trends in and causes of food insecurity.