Nearly one in five had difficulty affording food in 2011

Nearly one in five people (18.6%) reported that they faced a food hardship at some point in 2011, but in some states – particularly in the South – that figure jumps to almost one in four. That’s according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), who analyzed survey data collected by Gallup through the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The specific question Gallup posed to survey takers was: “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”  A “yes” answer to this question indicates that the respondent experienced a “food hardship” or, as the Census Bureau/USDA calls it, “food insecurity”.

According to the survey, more people indicated they experienced a food hardship in the third and fourth quarters of 2011 (19.2% and 19.4%) than in any period since the fourth quarter of 2008 at the national level. However, food insecurity rates vary quite a bit across states, ranging from a high of 24.5% in Mississippi to a low of 10% in North Dakota. Mississippi had the highest rate in 2010 as well. In 17 states, at least one in five respondents (20 % or more) indicated that they did not have enough money to buy food at some point in the last 12 months. Forty-one states had food hardship rates at 15% or more.  

States in CSG’s Southern region had the highest average hardship rate at 21.5%, followed by the West at 17.3% and the East at 16.4%. The Midwest had the lowest average rate at 15.6%.

Food hardship is linked closely to poverty and income trendsIn 2010, the percentage of Americans living in poverty hit its highest point in 17 years - 15.1%, or about 46.2 million people. Poverty rates ranged from a low of 6.6% in New Hampshire to a high of 22.7% in Mississippi in 2010. Children have been particularly hard hit over the past decade: from 2000-2009, childhood poverty rates increased in 38 states. By 2010, 14.7 million children in the U.S.—or 20% of all those under age 18—lived in households below the federal poverty level, set at $22,500 for a family of four. Nine percent of children lived in households that earn 50% or less of the poverty level, which is considered to be “extremely poor.” 

State-by-State Food Hardship Rates, 2011

Source: Food Research and Action Center, Food Hardship in America 2011