As many as 42 million Americans are food insecure as of 2015, which is the latest data available. The United States Department of Agriculture and Feeding America report on this figure each year. While over 40 million people struggle to get the groceries they need, this is actually a major improvement since as recently as 2009, when 50 million were food insecure.
The percentage of Americans that are struggling to feed themselves is still very high. In fact this ~42 million number equates to about 13.4% of the population. So roughly one in 8 people are food insecure. This data also includes the positive impacts of programs such as SNAP food stamps as well as charitable services, including local pantries. So about 13% of the people still struggle to get food each month, even after they turn to those other resources.
Examples of what makes up a food insecure person
When digging into the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, there are a few things that jump out at us. While of course others may feel differently, we found the following pieces of data to be very interesting.
1) One is around income levels. It is often assumed that hunger is only occurring in households living in poverty or maybe that do not work. But that is not necessarily true. In fact 57% of the 42 million people that were food insecure as of 2015 have an income that is higher than the federal government poverty level. So maybe those individuals have poor budgeting skills, live in high cost parts of the country, or have some form of financial crisis that has caused them to fall behind.
2) Another stunning number to us is that 21% of children are food insecure. So this is much higher than the 13.4% number. This means that food insecurity is hitting youth in this country much more than adults. This is very sad and should be looked at as a national crisis.
3) The ranges by county are incredible as well. For example, Issaquena County has an over 40% rate. But there is a county in North Dakota in which food insecurity is under 5%. In general the rates tend to be much higher in the southern part of this state than other parts of the nation.
4) When looking at 2015 food insecurity in regards to rural vs. other parts of the country, this number is also telling. In fact the percentage of food insecurity is about 20% higher in rural areas versus suburban and urban. This in some ways should not be too surprising with all of the data out there of blue America (which tend to be urban parts of the nation) vs. red America (which tend to be more rural).
5) SNAP food stamps does not always help. Neither do other government food assistance programs such as WIC. Since this crisis does not just impact the poor, this often means that food insecure people can’t qualify for aid. About 1 in 4 people do not qualify for SNAP vouchers due to their income. So these individuals are often faced with less options in getting help, and tend to turn to pantries.
So while there is definitely good news from this USDA data, as the problem has been trending down, the fact is too many people are still struggling. The solutions are not easy and will not be quick. But at least there is a very strong economy serving as a tailwind, as companies have been hiring workers left and right for several years now and wages are going up. So anyone that wants a job can and should get one. As after all, the best solution to poverty and/or food insecurity is employment as well as education.