One in Seven Americans Struggling Against Hunger

Need for a Strong Nutrition Safety Net Has Never Been Greater, Says FRAC

Contact: Jennifer Adach, 202.986.2200 x3018

Washington, D.C. – November 15, 2010 – More than 50 million Americans lived in households struggling against hunger in 2009, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Of them, 17.2 million are children (23.2 percent of all children). Previously, in 2008, 49.1 million Americans were in food insecure households. The 2009 number is the highest since USDA first started the survey in 1995.

The number of people in the worst-off category (living in “very low food secure” households) – the hungriest Americans – rose from 17.3 million to 17.7 million. The number of people in this category in 2009 is more than double the number in 2000.

Particularly large increases from 2008 to 2009 occurred for households with children under age six (from 22.3 percent to 22.9 percent – and up from 17.1 percent in 2007), married couple families with children, households living in poverty, suburban households, and households in the West. The rate for white, non-Hispanic households rose, while that for black households fell and the Hispanic household rate was unchanged.

The increase in 2009 is very modest compared to what happened in 2008. From 2007 to 2008, according to USDA data released a year ago, the number of people in food insecure households leapt from 36.2 million to 49.1 million. 2008 was the first year of the recession.

From 2008 to 2009, however, even as the recession deepened, food insecurity rose only very slightly. This was true even though unemployment, which had risen from five percent in December 2007 to 7.4 percent in December 2008, went up to 10 percent in December 2009.

FRAC attributes the relatively flat food insecurity rate in 2009 to nutrition program improvements.

“Food insecurity remains far too common and far too high,” said Jim Weill, FRAC president. “But the fact that the numbers did not increase dramatically demonstrates just how important the federal nutrition programs were to millions of America. Participation in those programs, especially SNAP, has grown to meet the rising need.”

“Equally important, the increase in SNAP benefits that was included in the economic recovery act and took effect in April 2009 had a particularly powerful effect in keeping hunger from getting worse,” Weill added.

“Quite simply, the increase in SNAP benefits worked. The goal of increase was to provide stimulus to the economy, help people weather the worst of the recession, and make SNAP more adequate to get through the month. The fact that hunger rates did not skyrocket as they did last year shows just how effective and essential that increase was and still is,” said Weill.

This finding is buttressed by FRAC’s analysis of monthly Gallup polling data showing a sustained drop in families struggling with food hardship beginning in the spring of 2009, despite the worsening recession.

Congress returns for its lame duck session this week, and reauthorizing the child nutrition programs remains on its to-do list. The bill, passed by the Senate and being considered by the House, would invest an additional $4.5 billion in child nutrition programs but is partially financed by cuts to future SNAP benefits. “We all want to see a child nutrition bill move forward in the lame duck session, and we still believe Congress can address the SNAP cuts as well before it adjourns,” noted Weill. “There is still an opportunity and a need to accomplish both of these goals.”

Since 1995, the United States Department of Agriculture, using data from surveys conducted annually by the Census Bureau, has released estimates of the number of people in households that are food insecure. Food insecure households are those that are not able to afford an adequate diet at all times in the past 12 months. The report also includes food insecurity rates for each state, but for states it uses three-year averages to give a better estimate of the number of households experiencing food insecurity. Experts agree that the Census/USDA measure of food insecurity is a conservative one, with the result that only households experiencing substantial food insecurity are so classified.

Visit FRAC’s website at for ongoing analysis.

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