Food Insecurity Among Seniors

by Mark Strayer Research Analyst, Feeding America

May is Older Americans Month and on May 14th in support of this, Feeding America released The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2017, a report by Dr. Craig Gundersen and Dr. James P. Ziliak, documenting the extent and distribution of food insecurity among seniors age 60 and older. The report found that, as of 2017, 7.7% of seniors are food insecure, a rate that is statistically indistinguishable from the rate in 2016. That is 5.5 million seniors age 60 and older. If this rate stays constant, due to the increasing share of seniors in the population, by 2050, more than 8 million seniors will be food insecure.

There is variation in senior food insecurity by state and region. Senior food insecurity reaches a high in Louisiana, where 12.3% of the senior population experiences food insecurity, and a low in Minnesota, where 2.8% of the senior population faces food insecurity. Senior food insecurity is more pronounced in the southern Census region, where 9.2% of seniors are food insecure, compared with 7.3% in the Midwest, 7.2% in the West, and 6.0% in the Northeast.

New to this year’s report is an analysis of senior food insecurity at the major metropolitan area level that allows us to look at senior food insecurity at a closer level. Senior food insecurity ranges from a high of 17.3% in the Memphis metro area, to a low of 3.0% in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

It is important to look at how senior food insecurity affects different groups of people to get a better sense of food insecurity among seniors. Seniors who are people of color tend to be at higher risk for experiencing food insecurity. Because of population size, the majority of the food-insecure senior population is white, but African American and Hispanic seniors are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Food insecurity among African American seniors is more than double the rate among white seniors (17.2% versus 6.5%), and food insecurity among Hispanic seniors is more than double the rate among non-Hispanic seniors (16.3% versus 6.9%).

Seniors with grandchildren present face food insecurity at a rate more than double that of seniors in households with no grandchildren present (15.7% versus 7.3%). Seniors who rent are almost four times as likely to be food insecure as seniors who are homeowners (19.6% versus 5.2%).

Federal nutrition assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), serve as the first line of defense against hunger for people of all ages, including seniors. However, not every senior who is food insecure is eligible to participate in these federal programs. As a result, the charitable sector is an important source of food for many individuals and families at risk of hunger across the country. Feeding America and the network of 200 food banks serve millions of seniors annually through a variety of programs that range from traditional pantry programs to specialized meal and grocery programs designed to address the unique needs of seniors.

Mark Strayer is a Research Analyst at Feeding America.