The report paints a difficult picture for many households considered food-insecure — meaning they did not have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living. The percentage of U.S. households facing very low food security increased from 3.8 percent in 2021 to 5.1 percent in 2022, the report found.
The study found statistically significant increases in food insecurity across almost all categories compared with the previous year. One in 8 U.S. households struggled with hunger in 2022, with 13.4 million children living in households that experienced food insecurity. Rates of food insecurity were higher for Black and Latino households. And 33.1 percent of single-parent households headed by women experienced food insecurity.
There were regional differences, with the study revealing that hunger is a growing problem in the South and in rural areas (14.7 percent, compared with 12.5 percent in urban areas).
“These numbers are more than statistics,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “They paint a picture of just how many Americans faced the heartbreaking challenge last year of struggling to meet a basic need for themselves and their children, and the survey responses should be a wake-up call to those wanting to further roll back our anti-poverty and anti-hunger programs.”
Anti-hunger advocates, such as Todd Post at Bread for the World, claim that one of the primary drivers of these increases is the end of pandemic-era support programs, chiefly the child tax credit expansion, which provided historic support to families with children during the pandemic, reducing the child poverty rate by an estimated 30 percent.
These numbers could worsen if the government shuts down in November. That would put more than 6.7 million women, young children and infants who rely on Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) services at risk. The program provides participants access to healthy foods, nutrition education, breastfeeding counseling and support, as well as health-care and social service referrals.
The numbers shouldn’t be surprising, said Nell Menefee-Libey, manager of public policy at the National WIC Association, as they come on the heels of the Census Bureau’s recent poverty report, indicating that childhood poverty more than doubled from 2021 to 2022.
While the WIC program is on sure footing now because of the continuing resolution that will see things through to the end of the year, she said, states will have to make some “terrible decisions” in 2024 without additional funds, refusing benefits to poor families or putting them on waiting lists.
Just over half of food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest federal food assistance programs administered by USDA. Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, chief executive of Feeding America, said many other hungry Americans turn to the nation’s network of food banks.
“Our food banks across the country have been reporting exceedingly high demand,” she said, with 50 million visitors last year and about close to that this year — a third more than before the pandemic.