7 Million U.S. Households Struggled to Feed Themselves in 2012

The rates of food insecurity in America have been largely unchanged since a recession-era spike.

A tourist by a plate of hot dogs following a weigh-in for contestants in the annual Coney Island Fourth of July international hot dog-eating contest at City Hall park in New York, Tuesday, July 3, 2012. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Sept. 5, 2013, 6:56 a.m.

Nearly 6 per­cent of Amer­ic­an house­holds knew severe hun­ger in 2012, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port out from the Ag­ri­cul­ture De­part­ment. That means that 7 mil­lion house­holds in the United States faced what the USDA calls “very low food se­cur­ity.” Over the course of 2012, 17.6 mil­lion Amer­ic­an house­holds were more gen­er­ally food in­sec­ure at some point dur­ing the year.

What ex­actly does it mean to have low or very low food se­cur­ity? Here are the con­di­tions those house­holds re­por­ted liv­ing through at some point in 2012:


The per­cent­age of severely food in­sec­ure house­holds is un­changed from 2011. The over­all level of food in­sec­ur­ity is largely un­changed since a spike at the start of the re­ces­sion (11.1 per­cent in 2007, 14.6 per­cent in 2008). In 2002, 11.1 per­cent of all house­holds were food in­sec­ure, com­pared with 14.5 per­cent a dec­ade later.

The num­bers are also bleak for house­holds with chil­dren, which had a high­er rate of food in­sec­ur­ity (20 per­cent) than the na­tion­al av­er­age for 2012. These rates par­tic­u­larly spiked for house­holds led by a single wo­man (35.4 per­cent). About 8.3 mil­lion chil­dren lived in homes where at least one child was food in­sec­ure. But the adults in these house­holds were typ­ic­ally worse off:


Black, non-His­pan­ic house­holds also had a high­er rate of food in­sec­ur­ity, at 24.6 per­cent com­pared with 11.2 per­cent of white, non-His­pan­ic house­holds. Among all states, Mis­sis­sippi had the highest rate of food in­sec­ur­ity with 20.9 per­cent of house­holds, and North Dakota had the low­est, with 8.7 per­cent of house­holds. The state rank­ings, the Ag­ri­cul­ture De­part­ment is care­ful to note, are tricky to meas­ure be­cause of the mar­gins of er­ror.

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