Poverty and Food Insecurity Rates Improved in 2017, but 1 in 8 People Still at Risk of Hunger

by Lydia Preuss Graduate Research Intern, Feeding America

It’s critical to examine food insecurity and poverty every year to understand national trends. At Feeding America, we look forward to the release of new data on household food insecurity, income and poverty from researchers at the US Department of Agriculture and the US Census Bureau every year because the challenges that many Americans face in affording nutritious food guide the work that we and our partners do.

Highlighted below are takeaways from each of the new reports illustrating the current state of hunger in America.

Key Takeaways: Household Food Security in the United States 2017 (USDA ERS)

Though the rate of individuals in food insecure households dropped in 2017 (12.5%) compared with 2016 (12.9%), it’s still higher than before the recession in 2007, as illustrated in the graph above.

  • 40 million people live in a food insecure household (1 in 8). This is the equivalent of the population of Canada.
  • 15 million households reported being food insecure at least some time during the year (11.8%).
  • Certain populations had food insecurity rates higher than the national average, including individuals living alone, Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic households, and households with an income below 185% of the poverty threshold (only $46,435 for a family of 4).
  • The number of food insecure children decreased slightly – from 12.9 million to 12.5 million – but remains relatively unchanged despite a drop in the national average. Families with children under the age of six and those headed by a single parent were at a substantially higher risk of food insecurity compared to other household types.

Key Takeaways: Income and Poverty in the United States 2017 (US Census Bureau)

The Census Bureau’s brief also shows improvement after the recession, but illustrates many still face economic challenges, especially individuals in minority populations.

  • Median household income increased from $60,309 in 2016 to $61,372 in 2017.
  • Most demographic groups saw a decrease in poverty levels; no group saw a significant increase in poverty levels. The official poverty rate for 2017 was 12.3% nationwide.
  • While only 1 in 11 non-Hispanic Whites lived in poverty in 2017, this number was more than 1 in 5 for African Americans and nearly 1 in 5 for Hispanics. These differential rates are often the result of systemic barriers different population groups face.

Although more than half of people in poverty report being food secure, these two factors are closely interrelated. The graph below illustrates their relationship along with the unemployment rate.

Although these releases suggest slight improvements from previous years, 1 in 8 people in the U.S. are still food insecure. Protective federal programs, charities and other partners all have a role to play in the fight to end hunger.

To further explore these data, check out the visualizations prepared by the USDA or the data wheel from the Census Bureau. Interested in local food insecurity rates? Access our interactive map, Map the Meal Gap, which will be updated with new data from 2017 in the spring.

To learn more about other areas of our research, visit FeedingAmerica.org/research.

Lydia Preuss is the Graduate Research Intern at Feeding America.