For years now, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service has released an annual report on the state of hunger in America. Since the height of the recession in 2011, the news about food insecurity has not been good: ever year, it has either risen or stayed the same. That is, until this year.
For the first time in five years, food insecurity is down—by a lot—among U.S. families, according to the USDA ERS report. The percentage of families with low food security—which the USDA defines as “access to food is limited by a lack of money and other resources”—dropped to 12.7 percent of the population in 2015. Though food insecurity has been decreasing slightly since its peak—14.9 percent in 2011, the height of the economic downturn—this is the first year that the decrease was statistically significant.
In a statement released the same day as the report, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack seemed ecstatic about this progress.
“Today's report marks a significant benchmark in our battle against hunger and food insecurity, underscoring in clear terms that our nation's families and children are better off today than they were when the President took office in 2009,” Vilsack said. “In fact, today's report points to the lowest figures on record for food insecurity among children—a major achievement in our country’s efforts to ensure every child has a safer, healthier future filled with unlimited opportunity.”
Many point to improving economic conditions throughout the country to explain the rise of food security. For instance, the unemployment rate has been more than cut in half since 2009, falling to 4.9 percent—just shy of the 10-year low. It makes sense: When folks have jobs, they are less likely to need assistance buying food.
And those who do require assistance can turn to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which many say has proven to be a reliable program. Anti-hunger group Feeding America responded to the USDA food insecurity report with a call to ensure that SNAP (formerly food stamps) remains fully funded to serve the 42 million Americans who still struggle.
“While it is indeed good news that there has been a significant decline in the number of households who are food insecure, the fact that 1 in 6 children do not have consistent access to adequate amounts of healthy, nutritious food should be of great concern to all Americans,” Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America, said in a statement. “These findings are proof that the public and private sectors must continue to work together to address the needs of everyone facing hunger.”
Photo credit: Alicia Cho