Food insecurity in the United States dropped again in 2019 ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has cost millions of Americans their jobs and continues to send many into food lines, the Agriculture Department reported Wednesday. 

According to USDA’s annual survey of U.S. hunger, which was conducted last December, 10.5% of U.S. households, or 13.7 million, were food insecure in 2019, meaning that their access to food was limited by lack of money and other resources. 

That rate was down from the 2011 high of 14.9% and well below the pre-recession level of 11.1% in 2007. 

Rates of food insecurity are substantially higher than the national average for several groups, including households headed by Blacks (19.1%), Hispanics (15.6%) and single women (28.7%). 

Some 15.4% of households headed by men were food insecure in 2019, and women and men living alone had rates of 13% and 12.8% respectively.

While the 2020 food insecurity rates won’t be released for another year, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program jumped from 37 million in March to 43 million in April, the latest month for which USDA has released data. That doesn’t capture the number of people who have received help through food banks and other feeding programs and may be ineligible for SNAP. 

According to a recent Census Bureau survey of households, 22.4 million adults reported that their household didn’t get enough to eat in the last seven days.

Some 4.1% of all U.S .households, about 5.3 million, were classified in a more severe category known as “very low food security,” which means that food intake of some household members was reduced and their normal eating patterns were disrupted at times during the year. 

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There was no statistically significant difference between the 2019 rate for that more severe category of food insecurity and the 2018 rate of 4.3%.

Children were food insecure at times during 2019 in 6.5% of the U.S. households that have children. That rate was not statistically different from the 2018 rate of 7.1%.

USDA economists report rates of food insecurity for individual states on a three-year rolling average, 2017-2019, and Mississippi continues to have the highest rate at 15.7%, followed by West Virginia (15.4%), Louisiana (15.3%), New Mexico (15.1%) and Oklahoma (14.7%). 

New Hampshire has the lowest rate at 6.6%, followed by New Jersey (7.7%), Iowa (7.9%) and Minnesota and North Dakota, each with a rate of 8.3%.

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