Fewer Americans reported going hungry at the start of the year, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau, as new government aid flowed to struggling households.
From January 6-18, 11.3% of adults said there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last seven days, down from the pandemic high of 13.7% reached in the previous two-week period ending in December. That’s five million fewer adults reporting food scarcity in January than December.
The decrease in household hunger coincides with the disbursement of the second round of stimulus checks and the extension of higher food assistance benefits as part of the $900 billion relief bill passed in December.
“I expect that those contributed to the decline,” said Dr. Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. “It’s not clear what all went into this.”
Still, nearly 24 million American households — including 12.5 million of those with children — still reported food insecurity in the latest period. The numbers also show the country’s food hardship is on par with late October and November levels, but down from December’s pandemic-era peak.
Although the downward trend is encouraging, hunger is still disproportionately hurting Black and Hispanic households with children, with the latter being the slowest demographic to recover.
From December to January, hunger rates among Hispanic households with children remained nearly stagnant, showing a small drop of less than a percentage point to 38.1%, while the percentage of food-insecure Black households with children fell 3.6 percentage points to 39.5%.
For context, 20.8% of white households with children and 18.2% of Asian households with children reported food insecurity, down from 25.6% and 21.4%, respectively.
Those food hardship numbers will gradually decline as more aid gets to those in need, thanks to recent executive actions issued by President Joe Biden, Schanzenbach said.
The Department of Agriculture is implementing Biden’s call to expand and overhaul food assistance programs like the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and the Thrifty Food Plan.
The programs will provide money to families with school-aged children who no longer receive free or reduced meals because their child’s school is now remote; expand increased SNAP benefits to approximately 12 million more people; and recalculate the cost of maintaining a healthy diet to be more in line with today’s prices.
“I am hopeful that we will continue to see these drop, especially as P-EBT payments start flowing out,” Schanzenbach said. “Those are likely to make a real dent in child food hardship.”