Jay Sjerven
Whether measured by households or by individuals, food insecurity in the United States declined in 2015, as it had in the previous three years, according to the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time, the percentage and number of both households and individuals who were food insecure in 2015 remained well above pre-recession levels, reflecting how disruptive the 2007-09 economic crisis was and how difficult it has proved to be for the nation to emerge from its shadow.

In its annual report on household food security in the United States issued Sept. 7, the E.R.S. indicated the percentage of U.S. households that were food insecure in 2015 dropped to 12.7% from 14% in 2014. The decline was termed significant and marked a continuation in the downtrend in food insecurity from the recent high of 14.9% of households in 2011. At the same time, the prevalence of food insecurity in 2015 still was above the pre-recession level of 11.1% of all households in 2007.

When measured in individuals, 42,238,000 people were food insecure in the United States in 2015, down 5,897,000, or 12%, from 48,135,000 in 2014. The overall U.S. population in 2015 was 316,161,000 compared with 313,305,000 in 2014.

The E.R.S. defines food-insecure households as those that report that at times during a year they were unable to acquire adequate food for one or more household members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.

Food-insecure households are subdivided into those with low food security and those with very low food security. Households with low food security avoided substantial reductions or disruptions in food intake, in many cases by relying on a few basic foods and reducing variety in their diets. Households with very low food security are those that indicated eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and their food intake reduced, at least some time during a year, because they could not afford enough food.

The E.R.S. indicated there were 125,164,000 households in the United States in 2015 compared with 124,044,000 households in 2014. The number of food-insecure households in 2015 was 15,849,000, or 12.7% of the total, compared with 17,426,000, or 14% of the total, in 2014. The number of households with low food security in 2015 was 9,540,000, or 7.7% of the total, compared with 10,488,000, or 8.4% of all households, in 2014. The number of households with very low food security in 2015 totaled 6,309,000, or 5% of the nation’s total, compared with 6,938,000 households, or 5.6% of the nation’s total, in 2014.

The E.R.S. indicated children were food insecure at times during 2015 in 3,022,000 households, or 7.8% of all U.S. households with children (38,978,000), which compared with 3,665,000 households, or 9.4% of all such households in 2014.

The E.R.S. noted while children usually are shielded from disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake that characterize very low food security, both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security in 0.7% of households with children (274,000 households) in 2015. This marked a decline from 1.1% of households with children in 2014.

When measured by individuals, 13,118,000 children lived in food-insecure households in 2015 compared with 15,323,000 in 2014. Of these, 6,377,000 children lived in households with low food security and 541,000 children lived in households with very low food security compared with 7,949,000 and 914,000, respectively, in 2014.

The E.R.S. observed for households with incomes near or below the federal poverty line, households with children headed by single women or single men, women and men living alone, and black- and Hispanic-headed households, the rates of food insecurity were substantially higher than the national average.

The prevalence of food insecurity varied widely from state to state, the E.R.S. said. Estimated prevalence of food insecurity in 2013-15 ranged from a low of 8.5% in North Dakota to a high of 20.8% in Mississippi.

In 2015, the typical (median) food-secure household spent 27% more for food than the typical food-insecure household of the same size and composition, including food purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

About 59% of food-insecure households in the 2015 survey reported that in the previous month, they had participated in one or more of the three largest federal nutrition assistance programs: SNAP; Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), or the National School Lunch Program.