49 million people in the United States are food insecure, and 16 million of them are children. An annual report from Feeding America, “Map the Meal Gap,” provides a detailed look at the families facing food insecurity in the United States at the county, state, and national level. Feeding America is a national network of more than 200 community food banks, and the report’s county level data is an essential aid for local food banks to anticipate the need for food in their communities.
The USDA defines food insecurity as a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle for all members of a household, as well as limited availability of adequate nutritional food. Food insecurity also represents times when households need to make trade-offs between meeting important, basic needs like housing costs or medical bills in order to buy food.
The challenge of measuring food insecurity is that it’s not an issue faced just by those in poverty. Food insecurity rates are not equivalent to poverty rates. In fact, 57% of food insecure families live above the poverty line, and 27% even live above 185% of the federal poverty line, which is equal to an annual income of $43,468 for a family of four. For these food insecure families whose incomes fall outside the threshold for government assistance, food banks are often their only resource.
Along with the county-level data, Feeding America’s report also provides extremely useful national level data.
There are 101 counties where African Americans make up the majority of the population, and 94 of them have the highest food insecurity rates in the country. 16 of the 26 majority-Hispanic counties also have the highest food insecurity rates. In fact, Feeding America only recognizes 10% of the almost 3,000 counties nation-wide as “high-food insecurity,” and the majority of minority dominated counties are classified as such, implying a disparity of resources in these counties.
The report also highlights policy issues, including the fact that programs are not reaching all food insecure children and families. For an example, there are only 42 summer food sites for every 100 school lunch programs, which leaves eligible children with limited opportunities to access the meals they need. Transportation to these sites is a particular challenge in rural communities and for children with working parents.
In the end, it’s the charitable organizations who work to assist all food-insecure families, covering the gap for those families ineligible for government assistance, and those families whose assistance inadequately meets their needs.
Feeding America’s report is an invaluable resource for community organizations as well as advocates for food-insecurity in the United States. Find it here.