Food Insecurity Roughly Doubled For U.S. Households Amid Pandemic, Surveys Suggest

As the coronavirus crisis has led to record job losses, many families are struggling to get by and afford enough food.

The number of Americans struggling to afford food is mounting dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, two new surveys suggest.

In late April, slightly more than 20% — or 1 in 5 — U.S. households reported food insecurity, according to an analysis by The Brookings Institution of two recent nationally representative surveys.

By comparison, 11% of U.S. households were considered food insecure in 2018, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Overall rates of household food insecurity have effectively doubled,” Brookings wrote in its report, released Wednesday. Brookings looked at two online surveys — one conducted on behalf of the Data Foundation, and the others for affiliates of the Brookings Institution, which asked questions taken from the USDA’s 2018 food security questionnaire.

Households are considered food insecure if survey respondents indicate that, sometimes or often, they didn’t have enough money to buy more food after their food ran out or the children in their household were not eating enough because they couldn’t afford enough food.

It’s worth noting the USDA’s 2018 survey results are not “apples to apples” — or directly comparable — to the two new survey results, but the data is broadly suggestive of an overall rise in food insecurity across U.S. households.

The levels of food insecurity found in the April surveys are even higher than those the USDA found in the years of the Great Recession after 2008, when U.S. household food insecurity hovered around 15%.

What’s more, households with young children are particularly struggling, with 2 in 5 households with mothers with kids ages 12 and younger reporting being food insecure.

A record 33 million workers in the U.S. have filed for unemployment in the past seven weeks, showing the harsh economic effect of the coronavirus and related shutdowns to prevent the virus’s spread. Those figures don’t include those who have been unable to file or those deemed ineligible for the benefits, including millions of undocumented immigrant workers.

During this economic crisis, Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for a long-term increase in food stamp benefits, seeking to boost them by 15% for as long as the crisis lasts, reported The New York Times. But Republican lawmakers have resisted, opting instead for a short-term increase during the pandemic.

Since the coronavirus hit the U.S. and caused broad economic shutdowns since March, there has been a sharp increase in demand at food banks nationwide.

HuffPost spoke last month to several parents who’d lost jobs in the pandemic and worried about providing food for their kids. Some had turned to food banks for help for the first time.

“I’m worried because I have three mouths to feed,” Alma Brigido, 35, told HuffPost last month. She lost her job at a restaurant after it closed due to coronavirus shutdowns, and she doesn’t qualify for unemployment benefits or the government’s stimulus checks because she’s undocumented.

“Without a job, without money, what am I going to do? When is this going to end?” she said.

The Brookings Institution report included two surveys. One, a poll of adults nationwide, was conducted online by NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of the Data Foundation and was fielded April 20-April 26, 2020. The other, a poll of mothers with children ages 12 and under, was conducted by SurveyMonkey on behalf of the Hamilton Project and the Future of the Middle Class Initiative and was fielded April 27-28, 2020. More details on the surveys’ methodology is available here.

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