The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic will have a devastating impact on people facing hunger across communities nationwide, according to a new study by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief organization. This study is the first of its kind to explore how food insecurity rates at the local level may increase in 2020 due to COVID-19.
The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity analyzes food insecurity rates for the overall population and children by state, county and congressional district. According to the study, communities that had higher rates of food insecurity pre-COVID-19 will continue to struggle more than other areas. Meanwhile, communities with lower rates of food insecurity pre-COVID-19 will tend to see the largest relative increases in food insecurity as a result of the crisis.
Pre-pandemic – and according to the USDA’s most recent report on food security in the U.S. – 37.2 million people, including 11.2 million children, did not have adequate access to nutritious food to live a healthy life. However, a recent Feeding America analysis demonstrates that this number is likely to grow by 17 million, including nearly seven million children. That means approximately 54 million people (1 in 6 people) may experience food insecurity in 2020, including 18 million children (1 in 4 children).
“This pandemic continues to impact the lives and livelihoods of our neighbors nationwide, putting millions of additional people at risk of hunger while continuing to hurt people already familiar with hardship,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “The long-term effects of COVID-19 may be substantial, but the Feeding America network of 200 food banks and over 60,000 partner food pantries and meal programs has a footprint in every community to help serve our neighbors during this time.
“According to The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity, the states projected to have the highest rates of food insecurity among the overall population include Mississippi (24.1 percent), Arkansas (22.5 percent), Alabama (22.2 percent), Louisiana (21.7 percent) and New Mexico (20.7 percent). Meanwhile, the states projected to have the highest rates of child food insecurity include Louisiana (34.5 percent), New Mexico (33.9 percent), Nevada (32.9 percent), Mississippi (32.6 percent) and Alabama (32.4 percent). One in three children in these states will likely experience food insecurity this year.
Specific counties projected to have the highest rates of food insecurity this year are:
- Jefferson County, MS (34.2 percent for overall population)
- Issaquena County, MS (33.9 percent for overall population, 49.9 percent for children)
- East Carrol Parish, LA (33.2 percent for overall population, 52.5 percent for children)
- Kusilvak Census Area, AK (33.1 percent for overall population, 52.3 percent for children)
- Holmes County, MS (32.7 percent for overall population)
- Sabine County, TX (49.1 percent for children)
- Zavala County, TX (48.9 percent for children)
Additionally, the counties that may see the highest change in food insecurity rates for the overall population are:
- Burke County, ND (157 percent change from 2018 to 2020)
- Renville County, ND (131 percent change from 2018 to 2020)
- Dickey County, ND (127 percent change from 2018 to 2020)
- Loudoun County, VA (125 percent change from 2018 to 2020)
- Eagle County, CO (124 percent change from 2018 to 2020)
“More of our neighbors in these communities and beyond are relying in part on charitable food assistance to make ends meet,” said Babineaux-Fontenot. “As a result, food banks are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of surges in demand, declining food donations, fewer volunteers and disruptions to our operating procedures. Regardless of these challenges, we will continue to stay strong and resilient and work our best to help ensure our neighbors have food on the table.”
This new analysis was conducted by building upon the approach Feeding America used in two earlier briefs to predict changes to national food insecurity rates for the overall population and children in response to changes to poverty and unemployment. The annual projected unemployment rate (11.5%) is within close range of expert estimates when annualized, including those from a monthly Wall Street Journal survey of more than 60 economists as of May (11.6%), the Congressional Budget Office (11.4%), and Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research (10.3%). To account for local unemployment variation, this new analysis adjusts the national unemployment projection for job loss due to COVID-19 based on an analysis of projected changes in the unemployment rate by industry and occupation by Goldman Sachs Investment Research.
The underlying analysis for the food insecurity projections was conducted by Dr. Craig Gundersen using the model developed for Map the Meal Gap, Feeding America’s county-level food insecurity report.
Other key findings from this report regarding the overall population include:
- The projected rate of food insecurity is highest for Mississippi(24.1 percent), which also had the highest rate of food insecurity in 2018.
- North Dakota has the lowest projected rate of food insecurity for 2020 at 12.0 percent. Still, it will see the largest increase in food insecurity rates (77 percent) compared to all other states.
- In addition to North Dakota, states that are projected to have the highest change in food insecurity rates – from 2018 to 2020 – include Minnesota (60 percent change), Nevada (57 percent change), Wisconsin (57 percent change) and Hawaii (57 percent change).
Other key findings from this report regarding child food insecurity:
- California will see the highest increase in the number of children living in food-insecure households (852,730) bringing the total to 2.2 million. Still, Texas will be home to the most children facing food insecurity (2.3 million).
- States that are projected to have the highest change in food insecurity rates – from 2018 to 2020 – are North Dakota (96 percent change), Massachusetts (81 percent change), Colorado (78 percent change), Idaho (75 percent change), New Jersey (75 percent change), and Utah (75% change).
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