In honor of May being “Older Americans Month,” Feeding America has released The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2018 and the Hunger Among Adults Age 50-59 in 2018 reports. Written by Dr. Craig Gundersen and Dr. James P. Ziliak, the reports detail the rates of food insecurity among seniors 60 and older and older adults ages 50-59 using the most recent data from the Current Population Survey (CPS).
In 2020, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic threatens the lives and livelihoods of people across the country. Seniors are at higher risk for illness and may face challenges accessing food amidst closures and social distancing orders. The long-term effects of COVID-19 on food insecurity remain to be seen, but due to the projected growth of the senior population in the coming decades, senior food insecurity is likely to remain a public health challenge for years to come. Though we do not have data on how the pandemic has impacted senior food insecurity, projections for overall food insecurity rates can be referenced here.
This year’s State of Senior Hunger reports find that, in 2018, 7.3% of seniors (5.3 million) and 10.6% of older adults (4.5 million) are food insecure in the United States.
Food insecurity does not impact all seniors equally. This year we added a new disability measure to better understand the relationship between disability status and food insecurity. Seniors with disabilities have food insecurity rates twice as high as their peers without disabilities. For older adults, this disparity is even greater – older adults with disabilities have food insecurity rates four times higher than older adults without disabilities. For older adults nearing retirement, living with a disability can exacerbate income challenges and lead to higher medical costs, and food insecurity can worsen disabilities and chronic health conditions.
People of color are at a higher risk of experiencing senior food insecurity. Black and Hispanic seniors (15.1%, 14.8%) are over twice as likely to be food insecure as White and Non-Hispanic seniors (6.2%, 6.5%).
We also see variability in rates of food insecurity across states. Nine of ten states with the highest rates of senior food insecurity are located in the South and West. State-level rates among seniors vary from 14.3% in the District of Columbia to 2.8% in Minnesota. For older adults, state-level rates vary from 17.3% in Kentucky to 2.6% in Colorado. Metro-level data can be found in the reports.
These findings underscore the unique risk factors that seniors face. By 2050, the senior population is expected to grow to 104 million and if the rates of food insecurity remain unchanged, more than 8 million seniors could become food insecure. The Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) and the charitable food sector through the Feeding America network of 200 foodbanks, play a critical role in combating senior hunger, but policymakers must continue to strengthen the existing public food programs and invest in public-private partnerships to reduce senior food insecurity and end hunger in America.
Hanna Selekman is a graduate intern on Feeding America’s research team. She is completing her Master’s degree in Social Work at the University of Chicago, where she is expected to graduate in June 2020.
Ziliak, J. P. & Gundersen, C. (2020). The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2018: An Annual Report. Produced for Feeding America. Retrieved from: https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/senior-hunger-research/senior.
Ziliak, J. P. & Gundersen, C. (2020). Hunger Among Adults Age 50-59 in 2018: An Annual Report. Produced for Feeding America. Retrieved from: https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/senior-hunger-research/senior.