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The US Department of Agriculture recently reported that nearly 15 percent of US households (17.9 million) experienced some food insecurity in 2011, up from 14.5 percent in 2010.

2009 Statistics:
The percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure had increased sharply in 2008 as the recession deepened but remained essentially unchanged in 2009, at 14.7 percent. The 2008 and 2009 levels are the highest recorded since national monitoring of food security began in 1995.

Food-secure households are those with consistent access throughout the year to adequate food for active healthy living for all household members. Food-insecure households lack that level of access at some time during the year.

The United States Department of Agriculture reported on November 17, 2008 that "691,000 children went hungry in America sometime in 2007, while close to one in eight Americans struggled to feed themselves adequately even before this year's sharp economic downturn."

View a report on household food security by the US Department of Agriculture here.

The USDA Economic Research Service plays a leading role in Federal research on food security—access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life—in U.S. households and communities; its impact on the well-being of children, adults, families, and communities; and its relationship to public
policies, public assistance programs, and the economy.

In 2010, 85.5 percent of U.S. households were food secure throughout the entire year, and 14.5 percent of households were food insecure at least some time during that year. The difference in the percentage of food insecure households from the 2009 estimate (14.7 percent) was not
statistically significant.

In 2010, 5.4 percent of households experienced food insecurity in the more severe range, described as very low food security, down from 5.7 percent in 2009.

ERS provides data access and technical support to social science scholars to facilitate their research on food security and food security measurement in U.S. households and communities.

  • Food Security of SNAP Recipients Improved Following the 2009 Stimulus Package
  • More Americans Relied on Food Assistance During Recession

Hunger in America: 2012 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts

World Hunger Education Service

Hunger in the United States

Three years after the onset of the financial and economic crisis, hunger remains high in the United States. The financial and economic crisis that erupted in 2008 caused a dramatic increase in hunger in the United States. This high level of hunger continues in 2010, according to the latest government report (with the most recent statistics) released in September 2011 (Coleman-Jensen 2011).

  • In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States 1 (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. v.)
  • In 2010, about one-third of food-insecure households (6.7 million households, or 5.4 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security (compared with 4.7 million households (4.1 percent) in 2007. In households with very low food security, the food intake of some household members was reduced, and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because of the household’s food insecurity (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. v., Nord  2009, p. iii.)
  • In 2010, children were food insecure at times during the year in 9.8 percent of households with children (3.9 million households.) In one percent of households with children,one or more of the children experienced the most severe food-insecure condition measured by USDA, very low food security, in which meals were irregular and food intake was below levels considered adequate by caregivers (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. vi).
  • The median [a type of average] food-secure household spent 27 percent more on food than the median food-insecure household of the same size and household composition (Coleman-Jensen 2011, p. vi).

Background: The United States changed the name of its definitions in 2006 that eliminated references to hunger, keeping various categories of food insecurity.  This did not represent a change in what was measured.  Very low food insecurity (described as food insecurity with hunger prior to 2006) means that, at times during the year, the food intake of household members was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because the household lacked money and other resources for food. This means that people were hungry ( in the sense of "the uneasy or painful sensation caused by want of food" [Oxford English Dictionary 1971] for days each year (Nord 2009 p. iii-iv.).

Poverty in the United States

The official poverty measure is published by the United States Census Bureau and shows that:

In 2010, 46.9 million people were in poverty, up from 37.3 million in 2007 -- the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty .  This is the largest number in the 52 years for which poverty rates have been published (DeNavas-Walt 2011, p. 14).

The 2010 poverty rate was 15.1 percent, up from 12.5 percent in 1997. This is the highest poverty rate since 1993, but 7.3 percentage points lower than the poverty rate in 1959, the first year for poverty estimates.  (DeNavas-Walt 2011, p. 14).

The 2010 poverty rate for Hispanics was 26.6 percent, for Blacks 27.4 percent.
In 2010, the poverty rate increased for children under age 18 from 20.7 percent to 22.0 percent. (DeNavas-Walt 2010 p. 14).

20.5 million Americans live in extreme poverty. This means their family’s cash income is less than half of the poverty line, or about $10,000 a year for a family of four (DeNavas-Walt 2011, p. 19).
49.9 million people or 16.3 percent of the American people, do not have medical insurance (DeNavas-Walt 2011, p. 23).

In 2011 the Census Bureau published a supplemental poverty measure for the first time (US Census Bureau 2011b).  This new measure addresses seven concerns that have been raised about the official poverty measure, including the fact that the offical poverty measure does not reflect the effects of key government policies that alter the disposable income of families and thus their poverty status, such as the SNAP/food stamp program.  (For a good brief discussion of these issues see 2011b, p.1-3.)

Taking these adjustments into account, the supplemental poverty measure showed a 3 million increase in the number of poor people in 2010, compared to the official poverty rate.  Who is poor shows some striking changes. The percentage of children in poverty is 27.7 percent of the total population in poverty with the supplemental measure and 36.1 with the official measure;  while people over 65 are 12.7 percent of the total population in poverty in the supplemental measure and 7.6 percent in the official measure (2011b, p.3-8).  The supplemental poverty measure does measure poverty more accurately, and it is gratifiying to see that programs to reduce poverty and hunger among children have had an impact.

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