Food Insecurity and Poverty Rates Improve to Pre-Recession Levels in 2018, but 1 in 9 People Are Still At Risk of Hunger

by Lauren Draftz Research Intern, Feeding America

Every year at Feeding America, we look forward to the release of new data from the US Census Bureau and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Examining annual changes in household food insecurity, income, and poverty allow us and our partners to better understand national trends and better serve Americans living in food-insecure households.

For the first time in recent years, national food insecurity and poverty rates declined to pre-recession (2007) levels. Highlighted below are key takeaways from the most recent reports (which were released in September 2019, with data about 2018) that help illustrate the current state of hunger in America.

Key Takeaways from Household Food Security in the United States 2018 (USDA ERS)

  • Though the rate of individuals living in food insecure households declined, 11.1% of households still report being food insecure at least some time during the year.
  • 37.2 million people, or 1 in 9 Americans, live in a food insecure household. This represents 11.5% of the US population and is roughly equivalent to the population of Canada.
  • Certain groups of people 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 (equivalent to only $47,637 for a family of 4).
  • The number of children living in food insecure households dropped from 12.5 million in 2017 to 11.2 million in 2018. Despite this decrease, families with children under the age of six and those headed by a single parent were still at a higher risk of food insecurity compared to other households.

Key Takeaways from Income and Poverty in the United States 2018 (US Census Bureau)

  • Both the national poverty rate and the number of people in poverty declined. In 2018, 38.1 million individuals (11.8% of the US population) lived in poverty.
  • Median household income was $63,179, essentially unchanged from 2017.
  • While only 1 in 12 non-Hispanic Whites lived in poverty in 2018, more than 1 in 5 African Americans and nearly 1 in 6 Hispanics lived below the poverty line. The differences in these rates are often the result of systemic barriers faced by minority groups.

Although more than half of people in poverty report being food secure, food insecurity is strongly associated with income. The graph below shows the trend over time in the number of individuals living in food-insecure households and the number of individuals with household income below the poverty line.

Although these reports show a decrease in food insecurity and poverty to pre-recession levels, 1 9 Americans is still at risk of hunger, and more than 38 million people live in poverty. Continued effort from the charitable sector (including food banks), federal programs, and other partners is still essential 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 2018 in spring 2020.


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