Well-Being Longevity

Food insecurity among children rose last year amid the pandemic: report

food insecurity report USDA U.S. department of agriculture 2020 2019 report children minorities black hispanic households billion food stamps SNAP benefit

Story at a glance

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture documents a high prevalence of households unable to provide adequate food for children in 2020.
  • Other demographics that saw increases in food insecurity include Black and Hispanic households, as well as those in Southern states.
  • The USDA estimates expenditures of more than $122 billion in public food and nutrition programs.

More American families, especially Hispanic and Black families, experienced food insecurity last year amid the pandemic, rising to 21.7 percent in 2020 from 19.1 percent in 2019.

These figures come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Food Security in the United States Report in 2020. The period of food insecurity for most Americans was the highest from mid-November to mid-December of 2020, ahead of staggering outbreaks of new COVID-19 infections. 

Although 89.5 percent of all U.S. households were food secure — or had enough food to feed and support the members of their household — 10.5 percent, or roughly 13.8 million households, reported not having enough food in 2020. This isn’t a large change in overall figures from 2019 data. 

Food insecurity also rose among children in 2020, moving to 7.6 percent of U.S. households from 6.5 percent from 2019. This amounts to about 2.9 million households.

“While children are usually shielded from the disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security, in 2020, children along with adults suffered instances of very low food security in 0.8 percent of households with children (322,000 households),” the report explained.

Food insecure children were categorized as being hungry and not able to find adequate food, skipping meals or forgoing food for an entire day due to a lack of money. Ultimately, the national averages of food insecurity for households with children rose in 2020.

Demographics that also reported not having enough food for parts of 2020 include Black and Hispanic households, along with households helmed by a single woman or single man, and households with incomes below the poverty threshold. 

Other households that reported adequate food supply levels included women living alone, men living alone, households with white, non-Hispanic persons, as well as households in the Midwest. These subgroups saw declines in food insecurity levels. 

The report captures a snapshot of how the recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic potentially affected food security and how well federal aid helped Americans. 

Due to the economic constraints, the USDA enhanced its SNAP food stamp program to ensure vulnerable households in many states could have access to food amid a public health crisis. Extensions mainly lasted through the spring and summer months of 2021, with the earliest request to extend food stamp programs occurring in March 2020, at the onset of the pandemic. 

Funding boosts made during this time became permanent and will take effect in October 2021. In the report, the USDA calculates that a historical high $122.1 billion in investments in food and nutrition assistance programs, such as SNAP food stamp benefits and the Farmers to Families Food Box Program.