USDA: 17.5 million U.S. families struggle to put food on the table

HungryChild3_blogA recently released report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that while the number has declined somewhat, 14.3% of American families, or 17.5 million families, are unable to afford adequate food for their households.

The report shows that “food insecurity” in the United States is down from a high of 14.9% of households in 2011 to 14.3% in 2013. Food insecurity in this case is defined as a household’s inability to afford adequate nutritious food for all members of the household. A similar report in 2007 found that 11% of households in the U.S. were food insecure. The economic downturn of 2008 is cited as the cause for recent higher percentages of food insecure American households.

“Given improvements in employment and other economic indicators, some have wondered why food security has been slow to improve. A recent study by my colleagues and me at the Economic Research Service sheds light on this question,” said Alisha Coleman-Jensen, Food Assistance Branch, Economic Research Service, in a blog on the USDA website. “We found that while unemployment declined in 2012 and 2013, inflation and the price of food relative to other goods and services continued to increase. These increases offset improvements in food security that might have resulted from the decline in unemployment.”

The USDA report stated that a subset of the U.S. food insecure households — 0.9% of all households with children (360,000 households) — faced food insecurity so severe that parents reported that children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. This subset of households with children was down from 1.2% in 2012.

According to an article from Reuters, almost two-thirds of food-insecure households surveyed by USDA reported that in the previous month they had participated in federal food and nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. About 46.2 million Americans — many of them children or the elderly — are currently enrolled in SNAP, down slightly from a peak of almost 47.8 million, in December 2012.

The full USDA report can be viewed here.

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