Spring Turning

Mixed Trends on Poverty and Food Insecurity in 2020

New data on poverty came out this week and oddly enough, the news was pretty good. Though many aspects of 2020 were really stinky, this data on poverty is pretty sweet. In fact, after accounting for government relief payments, the U.S. poverty rate fell to its lowest rate ever – 9.1 percent. This good news held true across the board for racial and ethnic minorities, even though economic disparities remained sharp. This uniformly good news on poverty is a bit different from the stats on food insecurity for 2020.

Overall, No Rise in Food Insecurity

Surprisingly, food insecurity did not rise overal in 2020. That’s the word from the Economic Research Service at the USDA. Long lines at food banks and record levels of unemployment had led many people to expect a different story.

But it turns out that those long lines were sporadic and federal food aid seems to have played a role in keeping the rate of food insecurity steady at 11 percent of households. Nonetheless, Black and Hispanic households did see a rise in food insecurity. For Blacks, the increase was three percent. For Hispanics it was one. Geri Henchy, Director of Nutrition Policy at FRAC, explained that problem with this situation:

“These are disparities that reflect long-standing discrimination in employment, in education and housing and that was just exacerbated and made all the more clear during COVID.

“There’s a lot of families who are really struggling. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation, that we allow this level of food insecurity, but also that you can see the discrimination writ large in these numbers.”

So no, this was not a disaster, but the fact remains that food security is poor in the U.S. for such a rich nation. In the Global Food Security Index published by The Economist, the U.S. dropped out of the top ten for food security in 2020. It landed at number 11 in the rankings. In 2019, it was number three.

The Prospect for Lasting Change

Stress and distress is a factor in the risk for obesity – this includes the effects of racism, poverty, food insecurity, and economic disparities. In 2020, we saw many stressors and a few bright spots as the U.S. government responded unevenly to the COVID-19 pandemic. One bright spot was the reduction in poverty, but continued food insecurity and widening disparities in hunger represent a challenge.

It is a challenge we can meet, if only we open our eyes and take it.

Click here and here for more on the new poverty stats. For more on food insecurity in 2020, click here, here, and here.

Spring Turning, painting by Grant Wood / WikiArt

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


September 15, 2021