Household food insecurity unimproved in 2014 despite economy

By Philip Brasher

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Sept. 9, 2015 - Despite the improving economy, there was no meaningful decline in household food insecurity again last year. 

The Agriculture Department says that 14 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2014 - meaning that they had difficulty at some point during the year getting adequate nutrition. There was no statistically significant change in the rate from 2013 at 14.3 percent or 2012 at 14.5 percent. 

The food insecurity number rose sharply from 2007 to 2008 during the recession and has remained above 14 percent since then. In 2007 the figure was 11.1 percent. 

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The one bright spot is that the rate in 2014 was down by a statistically significant amount from 2011, when it peaked at 14.9 percent.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack highlighted that drop, calling the report a “positive signal that reflects a recovering and growing economy.” 

But he said that the report “also reflects the continuing importance of nutrition assistance and anti-poverty programs, and efforts to improve employment and training programs that help low-income people obtain the skills they need to find good paying jobs so they can provide enough healthy food for their families.”

Previous USDA research suggests that increases in food prices have offset the gains in household income as the unemployment rate has fallen, said Alisha Coleman-Jensen, the lead author of the report by USDA's Economic Research Service. 

A cut in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in late 2013 also may be a factor in the relatively stable food insecurity rate, she said. The SNAP cut resulted from the expiration of a benefit increase that was enacted as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package. 

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, used the report to argue that increased nutrition assistance wasn't helping to bring down the food insecurity rate.

The report “revealed essentially no progress has been made in decreasing food insecurity for American families over the past year,” he said.

“Though there have been dramatic increases in government spending on SNAP and related programs, these numbers are a strong indication that additional resources have simply produced stagnant results, and by and large haven't helped families improve their overall stability.”

About 5.6 percent of households had very low food security last year, which was unchanged from 5.6 percent in 2013. Very low food security means that the household food intake was reduced and normal eating patterns were disrupted during the year because the family couldn't afford to eat adequately.

Children were food insecure in 9.4 percent of households in 2014, a figure essentially unchanged from 9.9 percent in 2013. 

The prevalence of food insecurity continues to vary widely among states as measured on a three-year rolling average. For 2012 to 2014, the rate ranged from a low of 8.4 percent in North Dakota to 22 percent in Mississippi. 

The prevalence of very low food security ranged from 2.9 percent in North Dakota to 8.1 percent in Arkansas.

There also continue to be big disparities between households, depending on the makeup of the family and its race. Some 35 percent of families with children and headed by a single woman were food insecure last year, as were 21.7 percent of those headed by a single man. 

Some 26.1 percent of African-American households and 22.4 percent of Hispanic families were also food insecure.

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