Sep 8, 2021 - Health

COVID didn't lead to a pandemic of hunger in the U.S.

Data: U.S. Department of Agriculture; Chart: Axios Visuals

New data shows rates of hunger among U.S. households didn't spike in 2020, despite the effects of the pandemic.

The big picture: Economic downturns as sharp as the one experienced during the worst of COVID-19 last year usually result in devastating spikes in hunger. 1 in 10 households are still food insecure, but massive increases in aid helped avert much worse.

By the numbers: According to a report released today by the USDA, 10.5% of U.S. households reported some level of food insecurity in 2020 — the same percentage as in 2019.

  • The percentage of households that reported very low food security — meaning they worry food will run out before they get money to buy more — actually declined from 4.1% in 2019 to 3.9% in 2020.

Flashback: That's not how the situation looked through much of 2020, when the sudden loss of 20 million jobs caused by the pandemic led to major stress on food banks throughout the U.S.

  • During the Great Recession in 2008, food insecurity spiked sharply from 11.1% to 14.6% of U.S. households, and didn't dip below 14% until 2015.

What they're saying: "This is huge news — it shows you much of a buffer we had from an expanded safety net,” Elaine Waxman, who researches hunger at the Urban Institute in Washington, told the New York Times.

Yes, but: Food insecurity did rise among some groups, including households with children, which went from 6.5% to 7.6%.

  • The hunger gap between Black and white households widened as well, from 11.2 percentage points in 2019 to 14.6 percentage points in 2020.
  • And while the U.S. was able to shield itself from a hunger pandemic, poor countries were far less fortunate, leaving world hunger at a 15-year-high in 2020.

What to watch: Whether President Biden's $3.5 trillion spending plan, which would further expand the pandemic-era safety net, becomes law.

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