Food prices are projected to rise 11.8 percent in 2022, the fastest pace since the early 1980s. Soaring inflation naturally raises concerns that it’s getting harder for Americans to put food on the table.
Indeed, Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that supports and connects about 60,000 food banks and pantries across the country, said at least half of its members are seeing increased demand for their services. Many journalists are reporting on distressed parents standing in long queues for free meals.
We are experts in food and agricultural economics. Together, we’ve created a new dashboard that tracks US food insecurity—the technical term for having trouble getting enough nutritious food—based on publicly available information.
The data we collect, as well as the information we collect from other sources, including the Census Bureau, do not yet show a dramatic increase in undernourished households. U.S. food security remains alarming but relatively flat.
Based on all the data we put into our dashboard, we estimate that in 2022, 11-15 percent of US residents will struggle to afford their next meal.
This range is based in part on internet-based surveys, which can often produce higher food security estimates than official government data. Because it is expensive to achieve a true random sample of Americans, cheaper online surveys are generally not representative of the US population, but are the primary means of measuring change compared to earlier online surveys.
Official reports are delayed and may be lower
Food security is officially assessed based on survey questions developed by the Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture. Every December, the federal government uses this measure to assess food security for the previous year. After a full analysis, it will release this data in September next year.
According to the USDA, the official food insecurity rate was about 10.5 percent from 2019 to 2021.
During those three years, other researchers found lower and much higher rates. Our average of these surveys shows that national levels peaked at nearly 19 percent in the U.S. in the months following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
In about six months, food security has returned to an average range of 10-11 percent, according to available data.
Inconsistency between facts and coverage
Why do long lines at food banks and reports of increased demand for free food contradict the relative stability of national food insecurity rates?
One reason for this is that levels of food insecurity, which usually coincide with social and economic inequality, can fluctuate dramatically.
For example, Nassau County, a predominantly affluent suburb of New York City’s Long Island, had a food insecurity rate of 5.7 percent in 2020. Nearby Bronx County, New York State’s lowest-income county, had even higher rates of food insecurity. triple that, at 19.7 percent, according to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap study.
As a result, food security may worsen or improve in certain communities without affecting the national index.
Another explanation may be the success of government programs and non-profit organizations that help people get enough food. The number of people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, sometimes called “food stamps” and usually just SNAP, rose 2.8 percent to 42.3 million from January to October 2022.
In some states, SNAP benefits remain at high levels set when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Survey data from our Consumer Food Insights reports also show that the average length of time households receive SNAP benefits increased from 9.5 months to 12.4 months in 2022.
About 7 percent of households went to food pantries in December 2022, up from 4.4 percent in 2019, according to the Census Bureau. At the same time, the USDA announced an additional $2 billion for emergency food suppliers to combat rising food costs. .
The food donation system is decentralized, making it difficult for Americans to determine if the amount of food donated has changed. According to Feeding America, the 2.5 billion meals served by its network in the first half of 2022 came from many donors, with its corporate partners playing a large role.
The data further suggests that while consumer confidence in the overall economy is at historic lows, the threat of an economic downturn does not mean that many people still have more money saved than they will through 2020. Likewise, unemployment fell to 3.5 percent in December 2022, a historic low last seen before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finally, the researchers found that income and accumulated savings over time were more strongly related to whether families experienced food insecurity than their breadwinner’s current salary. As disposable incomes for most Americans increase in 2020 and 2021, there could be no deeper economic shock than the roughly 12 percent increase in food prices recorded between December 2021 and December 2022 to boost food security.
Get clear pictures
To be clear, we don’t mean to suggest that food insecurity isn’t a serious issue or that more than 1 in 10 Americans struggle to get enough to eat.
In contrast, we found that policy and research interest in food safety increased dramatically in the year following the COVID-19 shutdown, resulting in more data on the topic before tapering off in 2021. Today, the public is again paying more attention to this topic.
Food banks and SNAP benefits have provided nearly $130 billion in economic assistance annually to low-income Americans in recent years, including dramatic increases in benefits. We believe these efforts are important.
We suggest that conducting and publishing high-quality polls more frequently can provide sustained attention to the issue, clarify trends, and allow experts like us to make better predictions.
As all food insecurity surveys are subject to sampling error and only provide a snapshot of one time period, we believe that combining the multiple surveys shown in our data panel can better inform policymakers and charities working to address food insecurity. levels rise.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.