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Jen Adach, 202-986-2200 x3018, jadach@frac.org

New Data Reveal Extent of Hunger in Every Corner of the U.S.
FRAC Releases New Data on Food Hardship in 2008 and 2009, with First-Ever Data for MSAs and All Congressional Districts

Download the report: Food Hardship: A Closer Look at Hunger - Data for the Nation, States, 100 MSAs, and Every Congressional District (pdf)

Washington, D.C. – January 26, 2010 – New data released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) reveal – for the very first time – the extent to which Americans are struggling to afford enough food in every Congressional District and 100 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas. This unprecedented set of data also chronicles food hardship through December 2009, providing a unique up-to-date examination of how millions of American households in every part of the country are struggling with hunger in the recession. Official government data on food insecurity have a nearly one-year time lag and do not go below the state level.

The report analyzes survey data that were collected by Gallup and provided to FRAC. The ability to provide such localized data and such up-to-date data comes from Gallup, interviewing 1,000 households per day almost every day since January 2, 2008 for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project. Through December 2009, more than 650,000 people have been asked a series of questions on a range of topics including emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and access to basic services. Specific to this report, more than 530,000 people were asked: “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

Gallup’s data take us through December 2009 and reveal pervasive food hardship at the national, state, MSA, and congressional district level:

  • Food hardship in the Gallup survey for the nation as a whole rose from 16.3 percent of respondent households in the first quarter of 2008 to 19.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. In 2009, the rate dropped slightly, with the rate in the four quarters of 2009 hovering between 17.9 and 18.8 percent. In the fourth quarter of 2009, it was 18.5 percent.
  • The food hardship rate is even worse for households with children. Respondents in such households reported food hardship at a rate 1.62 times that of other households – 24.1 percent versus 14.9 percent in 2009.
  • In 2009, in 20 states, more than one in five respondents said that they experienced food hardship; in 45 states more than 15 percent reported food hardship. For households with children, in 22 states one quarter or more of respondents reported food hardship.
  • Of the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), 82 had 15 percent or more of respondents answering that they did not have enough money to buy needed food at times in the last 12 months. For the 50 largest MSAs, 15 had more than one in four households with children reporting food hardship.
  • Of the 436 Congressional Districts (including the District of Columbia), 311 had a food hardship rate of 15 percent or higher. In 139 of them the rate was 20 percent or higher. Practically every Congressional District in the country had more than a tenth of respondents reporting food hardship.

“The data in this report show that food hardship – running out of money to buy the food that families need – is truly a national problem. It is a national problem in the sense that the rate for the nation is so high,” said Jim Weill, President of FRAC. “And it is a national problem in the sense that rates are high in virtually every state, Metropolitan Statistical Area, and Congressional District.”

National Trends
For the nation, the monthly data show that the dramatic rise in the food hardship rate in 2008 tracked key developments in the economy, including rising unemployment and skyrocketing food prices. After late 2008, the food hardship rate flattened out and moderated somewhat.

While the economic crisis continued in 2009, several factors likely were responsible for keeping the food hardship rate from continuing to climb: Food prices stopped their rapid growth, and increases in SNAP/Food Stamp benefits and eligibility and in other low-income supports – particularly through the February 2008 Recovery Act – provided needed help to struggling families. SNAP/Food Stamp benefit increases occurred in October 2008 and April 2009, and beginning in December 2008 the number of people receiving SNAP/Food Stamp assistance began growing even more rapidly than earlier in the recession. From January 2008 to November 2008 the number rose by 3.3 million. From November 2008 to October 2009 it rose by 6.8 million.

“While it is an encouraging sign that the dramatic growth in 2008 was not followed by further growth in 2009, the crucial facts are that the most recent food hardship number, at 18.5 percent, is not only well above the early 2008 rate,” said Jim Weill, “but is simply unacceptable under any economic conditions. Nearly one in five U.S. households is struggling with hunger. This should be of tremendous concern to the nation.”

Also deeply concerning is the finding that one in four respondents in households with children reported food hardship.

“President Obama has made it a goal to end childhood hunger by 2015, and this report shows that not a minute can be wasted between now and 2015 if we’re to reach that goal,” said Weill. “Strengthening the economy, developing good jobs at good wages, boosting income supports, improving child nutrition programs through the upcoming reauthorization, and bolstering SNAP/Food Stamps so it helps even more households and does so with more robust benefits, are all ways that the President, Congress and the states can tackle this challenge and achieve the 2015 goal.”

The report’s appendix contains charts providing food hardship data:

  • for the nation, by calendar quarter, throughout 2008 and 2009;
  • for the nation, month by month, throughout 2008 and 2009;
  • for the states in 2009 and in 2008;
  • for the states in 2008-2009 combined, broken out by households with children and those without children;
  • for the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in 2008-2009 combined;
  • for the 50 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in 2008-2009 combined, broken out by households with children and households without children;
  • for all Congressional Districts, alphabetically by state, for 2008-2009 combined; and
  • for all Congressional Districts, in rank order, for 2008-2009 combined.

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The Food Research and Action Center (www.frac.org) is the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States.

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