More Americans are going hungry than at any time during the pandemic

Stephanie Asymkos
·Reporter
·4 min read

More and more Americans are going hungry as the pandemic continues to spiral out of control and government aid dries up, with children bearing the brunt of the hardship.

More than 27.3 million or 12.7% of Americans — 17.5% among households with children — reported they either sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the last week, according to new data this week from the U.S. Census Bureau that polled people from November 25 to December 7. That’s the highest level dating back to the last week of April when the Census survey began.

Read more: More produce, bigger bills: How our grocery shopping has changed during the pandemic

That level of food insecurity also hasn’t been reached since 2015, when 12.66% of Americans reported not enough food to eat, according to separate data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Volunteers wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of coronavirus while waiting for the next car at a drive-thru food pantry outside the First Universalist Church, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Norway, Maine. Pictured, from left, Elishe Wilson, Steve Butler, Holly Roberts, and Sylvia Normand. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Volunteers wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of coronavirus while waiting for the next car at a drive-thru food pantry outside the First Universalist Church, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Norway, Maine. Pictured, from left, Elishe Wilson, Steve Butler, Holly Roberts, and Sylvia Normand. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Food is just one measure of hardship facing millions of American households,” said Dr. Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “Large numbers are reporting that it was somewhat or very difficult to cover usual expenses such as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses.”

The food crisis could worsen if no new relief materializes from federal lawmakers who continue to negotiate the terms of the next coronavirus aid package. Most of the government support under the CARES Act passed in March has run out, with the remaining aid and protections slated to expire at the end of the year.

The country is suffering

Faylene McKeen selects a package of bread to be given away at a food pantry she oversees at the First Universalist Church, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Norway, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Faylene McKeen selects a package of bread to be given away at a food pantry she oversees at the First Universalist Church, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Norway, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

The Census Bureau Household Pulse survey began in April and over three phases has measured a range of economic indicators like employment status, household expenses, housing security, and access to healthcare, providing near real-time biweekly snapshots of how Americans are faring amid the crisis.

Across many indicators, the country is suffering.

Read more: 'Money, Honestly' podcast: Battling food insecurity amid the pandemic

The share of those who said it has been somewhat or very difficult to pay for usual household expenses hit the highest point at 35.6% since the last weeks of August when the question was first introduced in the survey.

The percentage of Americans experiencing housing insecurity or who expect to lose income in the next four weeks reached their highest points since mid-July, but are below the levels reached in the spring.

‘Millions of families need additional relief’

People pick up boxes of groceries at a food bank held at Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. "This neighborhood is hard hit by COVID-19. Our families work in service industry jobs," said Carlyn Oropez, director of operations at the facility. "Most of the people here have had a reduction in hours, reduction in pay, or have lost their jobs. They are coming here for help with basic needs." (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
People pick up boxes of groceries at a food bank held at Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Food insecurity is largely accelerating, with the rates of increases growing in four of the last five polling periods. Hardships are most apparent in states like Arkansas, Arizona, Hawaii, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas, where 15.4% to 19.4% of the states’ populations are food insecure, the data showed.

Read more: Coronavirus stimulus checks: Here's how people are spending their relief money

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 10.5% or 13.7 million Americans were food insecure at some time during 2019, meaning there were more food insecure Americans between April and December of this year than there were in all of 2019.

The nation’s food banks and pantries have proved to be an essential lifeline and safety net to individuals and households ineligible or caught in the backlog of applications to government assistance programs like SNAP.

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Those food banks in the country’s largest cities and metropolitan areas have reported skyrocketing demand since March with calculated predictions that demand will hold steady into 2021, especially if the government doesn’t soon step in again as cases surge across the country and states are forced into more lockdowns.

“We are all hopeful that we will turn a corner before too long, as the vaccine becomes widely distributed and the virus no longer paralyzes the economy,” Schanzenbach said. “Until the economy is well on its path to recovery, though, millions of families need additional relief and support.”

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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