Nearly One in Five Americans Report Inability to Afford Enough Food

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Food Hardship in America – Data for the Nation, States, 100 MSAs, and Every Congressional District (pdf)

FRAC Releases New Analysis of Gallup Data on Food Hardship through 2010, with Rates for the Nation, Regions, States, 100 Large Metropolitan Areas, and Every Congressional District

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jennifer Adach, 202-986-2200 x3018

Washington, D.C. – March 3, 2011 – Nearly one in five Americans struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families in 2010, according to a new report released today by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). The report also reveals the extent of this struggle through 2010 in every congressional district and 100 of the country’s largest metropolitan areas (MSA), providing a unique up-to-date examination of how millions of American households in every part of the country continue to face a struggle with hunger.

The report analyzes data that were collected by Gallup and provided to FRAC. The data were gathered as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, which has been interviewing almost 1,000 households daily since January 2008. FRAC has analyzed responses to the question: “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 reveal pervasive food hardship at every level:

  • The annual rate of food hardship in 2010 was 18 percent, down slightly from the 2009 level of 18.3 percent. The rate peaked in 2008, increasing from 16.3 percent in the first quarter of 2008 to 19.5 percent in the fourth quarter.
  • In the last few months of 2010, some of the highest rates in the three year period were reached—the October 2010 rate of 19.3 percent had been exceeded only in November-December 2008.
  • The variations in food hardship by region in 2010 were substantial. In the starkest difference, the rate in the Southeast (21.1 percent) and Southwest (20.8 percent) is one-third higher than in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.
  • In 21 states in 2010, one in five or more respondents answered the food hardship question in the affirmative; in 45 states, 15 percent or more answered the question “yes.” The states with the highest rates of food hardship were overwhelmingly from the Southeast, Southwest and West.
  • Eighty-five of the 100 largest MSAs had 15 percent or more of households affirmatively answering this question. In only three MSAs was it below 12.5 percent (one in eight respondents). Most of the MSAs with the highest rates of food insecurity were in the Southeast and Southwest, and in California.
  • In 177 of the 436 congressional districts (including the District of Columbia), one-fifth or more of all respondent households reported food hardship in the 2009-2010 period. 324 districts had a rate 15 percent or higher. Only 17 had fewer than one in ten 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 a substantial challenge in every corner of this country,” said Jim Weill, FRAC President. “While the nation’s Great Recession may have technically ended in mid-2009, it has not yet ended for many of the nation’s households. For them, 2010 was the third year of a terrible recession that is widely damaging the ability to meet basic needs.”

In its report FRAC noted that in 2010 the government’s “U-6” index – which reflects a combination of traditional unemployment, involuntary part-time workers, and discouraged workers – was generally comparable to that in 2009 and much higher than in 2008.  In late 2010 the rate was higher than earlier in the year – hovering around 17 percent. This helps explain why food hardship rates are so high and are receding so slowly.

“There still are unprecedented numbers of Americans who are struggling with no wages or low wages, and we can see the impact of that struggle in the food hardship data,” said Weill. “We have to strengthen programs that benefit those who are trying to make ends meet. We have the resources, even in these difficult times, to eliminate hunger in this country. The consequences of not doing this are far too severe, and the moral cost is even greater. We can’t afford to leave people behind, especially when we can see that so many are struggling.”

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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.