Feeding America finds highest level of money needed for food security in 20 years

Feeding America's research indicates that the amount of money needed by people experiencing hunger to afford sufficient food has reached its highest point in two decades.

May 17, 2024

3 Min Read

The extra amount of money that people facing hunger said they need to have enough food reached its highest point in the last 20 years, according to Feeding America's annual Map the Meal Gap study. People facing hunger said they need an additional $24.73 per week in 2022, a 9.5% increase after adjusting for increased prices. Nationally, the amount needed among all 44 million people facing hunger in 2022 hit a record high of $33.1 billion, up nearly 43%. This increase suggests that rising prices, especially food prices, likely contributed in part to the increase in need.

Map the Meal Gap is the only study that provides local-level estimates of food insecurity and food costs for every county and congressional district in the U.S. The study builds upon the USDA's latest report of national and state data, which showed a sharp increase in food insecurity in 2022 amidst historically high food prices and the expiration of many pandemic-era programs. Map the Meal Gap emphasizes the urgent call for all of us to take action.

"The insights from this year's study confirm what we hear from people facing hunger: elevated food prices and the hard choice between other household expenses like electricity, childcare or medical bills is making hunger in America worse," said Linda Nageotte, Feeding America president and chief operating officer. "This powerful tool helps us understand the impact of food insecurity and underlines that we can choose to end hunger in America by coming together as a nation. That's why Feeding America is calling upon Congress to strengthen critical federal nutrition programs that help to feed millions of families, children and individuals."

The national average cost per meal, which reflects how much money people who are food secure report spending on food, also reached its highest point in the last two decades, rising nearly 3% to $3.99 per meal in 2022. High food prices can strain a household's budget when balancing expenses like housing, utilities, transportation and other essentials.

Other key findings of Map the Meal Gap include:

  • Food insecurity by geography:

    • Food insecurity exists in all 3,144 counties and county equivalents as well as all 435 congressional districts in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

    • Estimated food insecurity levels vary across regions, influenced by factors like unemployment and poverty as well as systems and policies that prevent certain households and communities from accessing the food they need.

    • Child food insecurity rates reach almost 50% in some counties.

    • Rural counties make up 62% of all U.S counties, but 9 out of 10 counties with high food insecurity are rural.

    • 8 out of 10 high food insecurity counties are in the South, indicating regional disparities.

  • Income, food spending and costs:

    • Nearly 50% of individuals experiencing food insecurity may not qualify for SNAP benefits due to program eligibility restrictions based on household income.

    • Meal costs vary significantly by county, ranging from $2.91 to $6.67, showcasing the diverse economic challenges faced by communities.

  • Food insecurity by race and ethnicity:

    • While nearly 40% of the food insecure population in the U.S. is white, food insecurity rates among Black individuals and Latino individuals exceed those of white individuals in most counties. These disparities are an example of how historical, social, economic and environmental factors have held many communities of color back, creating barriers to food security.

    • Racial disparities persist, with significant variations in food insecurity rates across different racial and ethnic groups and geographic locations.

    • Data about additional racial and ethnic populations is not available through Map the Meal Gap, but other research shows that additional communities of color, including Native Americans and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, experience food insecurity at disproportionately high rates.

To learn how food insecurity impacts your community, visit FeedingAmerica.org/MaptheMealGap.

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