“Food insecurity” describes households that had difficulty at some point in the previous year in getting enough food for their families, due to a lack of financial or other resources. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides an analysis of food insecurity, based on Census survey data, on an annual basis. The most recent study has found that food insecurity actually decreased slightly in 2013, but it still remains at high levels, compared to pre-recession years.
In 2007, the rate was 11 percent, but since 2008 the rate of food insecurity has remained elevated. In 2013, a 17.5 million households, or 14.3 percent, faced food insecurity, down from the high of 14.9 in 2011. Households with children face higher rates of food insecurity than those without children, and the percentage of households with food insecure children remained the same between 2011 and 2013 (at 10 percent).
Other types of households were also disproportionately impacted by food insecurity: low-income households, households headed by a single parent, and black and Hispanic households. The South had the highest food insecurity of any region, at 15.7 percent. Sadly, North Carolina’s food prevalence of food insecurity of 17.3 percent (almost 3.9 million households) ranked fifth among all states.
Back in June, the USDA’s Economic Research Service published a report examining the causes of the high rates of food insecurity (see our blog about it here). It found that unemployment, inflation, and food price increases all contribute to increases in food insecurity. These economic challenges persist in many communities. For example, even though the overall unemployment rate has declined, some areas and demographic groups continue to see high unemployment and, consequently, diminished financial and economic security among households. And as we also recently blogged about, NC had the highest percentage increase in concentrated poverty between 2000 and 2010.
This week, the Washington Post also wrote about food insecurity, citing a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, which found that economic inequality correlated with food inequality. Although the American diet had improved overall between 1999 and 2010, the improvements were mostly among those in a higher socioeconomic status. Those in the higher and medium socioeconomic brackets saw improvements, while those in the lowest saw a decline.
All Americans should be able to access enough food to meet their nutritional needs, but unfortunately many people are unable to. But addressing just the food issue will not solve the underlying problems. As the medical journal article points out, there is a significant correlation between socioeconomic status and quality of diet. In order for food insecurity to truly be addressed, particularly in our high-ranking state, we need to address the growing structural inequality in our economy.