Last updated: September 21, 2023
Food insufficiency, which means sometimes or often not having enough to eat, has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain populations are experiencing higher levels of food insufficiency as a result of systemic inequalities that pre-date the pandemic.

Food Insufficiency in the U.S.

  • Summary Points

    • According to data from the Census Household Pulse Survey data, the rate of food insufficiency (“sometimes” or “often” not having enough to eat) in September 2023 (12.1%) was the same as the rate in August and July 2023.

    Context: In general, food insufficiency increased from August 2021 (when it was at a pandemic-low of 7.8%) to July 2022 (11.9%). From July 2022 through February 2023, rates fluctuated between 11.0-11.5%. After a slight decrease in March and April, rates have increased again. 

    • Breakdown by race/ethnicity: In the last month, food insufficiency rates increased slightly for Black adults (22.8% in September compared to 21.9% in August) and remained the same for Latinx adults (16.1% in September compared to 15.9% in August). Rates of food insufficiency continue to be over twice as high for Black and Latinx adults compared to White adults (9.2% in September). (Figure 1 and Table 1) 

    Higher rates of food insufficiency in Black and Latinx communities are due to systemic racism that results in higher levels of poverty, disinvestment in access to healthy foods or quality education, wage discrimination, and other root causes of hunger.

    • Breakdown by family type: Food insufficiency rates among households with children slightly decreased (14.3% in September compared to 14.8% in August and 15.3% in July). While this decline is expected with the beginning of the school year and access to school meals, this is a large increase compared to earlier this year (for example, 12.5% in March). 
    • Breakdown by gender identity and sexual orientation: In August, 12.9% of women reported food insufficiency compared to 11.3% of men. This has been a persistent disparity throughout 2022 and 2023. 

    Overall, food insufficiency rates were 16.5% among those who identified as LGBT, 11.0% among those who did not identify as LGBT, and 22.4% among those who identified as another sexual orientation (e.g., intersex, asexual).

    A limitation of these data is the small sample size with each data release, which results in estimates that fluctuate frequently. However, the data consistently show disparities for respondents identifying as transgender or LGBT. Reasons include discrimination that lead to fewer employment opportunities and higher levels of poverty. 

  • Context to Explain Persistently High Food Insufficiency

    • Economic Context: Increases in the price of most goods, including food, rent, and medical care, continue to put pressure on household budgets and, therefore, the risk of food insufficiency. From August 2022 to August 2023, the cost of food from the grocery store rose 3.0%. Since January 2020, the cost of food from the grocery store has risen a total of 24% percent. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects grocery store food prices to continue to increase in 2023 for a total of 5.2% over the course of the year. 

    Of the respondents in the Pulse survey who reported food insufficiency in September, 86% indicated that it was because they “couldn’t afford to buy more food.”

    In addition, 37% of respondents reported finding it “somewhat” or “very” difficult to pay for usual household expenses in September 2023, which is higher than the rate of financial hardship was back in January 2021.

  • Key Takeaways

    • Despite declining rates of inflation, the share of Pulse respondents reporting food insufficiency has remained steady at 12.1% since July. Food insufficiency remains higher than it was during almost any other time of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the exception of higher rates from Oct through Dec of 2020. 
    • Twice as many Black and Latino adults report food insufficiency than white adults due to persistent barriers resulting from structural racism. 
    • See FRAC’s Action Center for bills we’re supporting and how you can get involved. 

Data Visualizations

Mapping Food Insufficiency

The map shows the average rate of food insufficiency, which means sometimes or often not having enough to eat, in the previous seven days. Food insufficiency rates are calculated from the Census Household Pulse Survey data.

Explore the Map

Comparing States

The bar graphs show the average rate of food insufficiency, which means sometimes or often not having enough to eat, in the previous seven days. Food insufficiency rates are calculated from the Census Household Pulse Survey data.

Make Your Comparisons

Hunger, Poverty, and Health Disparities During COVID-19 and the Federal Nutrition Programs’ Role in an Equitable Recovery

The health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has made the federal nutrition programs more important than ever. FRAC’s latest report is a review of new research on how the federal nutrition programs reduce hunger, poverty, and health, including their efficacy during the pandemic, and concludes with policy recommendations to leverage the federal nutrition programs for a robust and equitable recovery.

Learn More