Jun 6, 2024 - Health

Food insecurity across America, mapped

Map showing change in number of individuals experiencing food insecurity from 2021 to 2022 by U.S. state. Nationally, the number of such individuals increased by 30.5%. North Dakota had the highest increase, at 56.8%, while D.C. had the lowest, at 7.5%.
Data: Feeding America; Map: Alice Feng/Axios

Food insecurity is worsening the most drastically in the Midwest, where the number of food-insecure people increased by over 40% in several states from 2021 to 2022, a new report finds.

Why it matters: The national rate of food insecurity is about 13% across all counties — but some areas are struggling with hunger to a much more severe degree.

Driving the news: The data comes by way of Feeding America, a nationwide network of food banks, which issues an annual "Map the Meal Gap" report.

  • North Dakota (+56.8%), South Dakota (+45.6%) and Iowa (+44.6%) saw the biggest increases in the number of food-insecure people from 2021 to 2022.
  • Washington, D.C. (+7.5%), Hawai'i (+10.1%) and Nevada (+11.5%) saw the lowest.
  • Child food insecurity, meanwhile, also exists in every U.S. county — and is as high as 48% in at least one: East Carroll Parish, Louisiana.

How it works: The report uses the USDA's definition of food insecurity: a "lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life due to limited financial resources."

  • But Feeding America looks at a combination of factors — like unemployment, poverty, homeownership, income and disability status — to get what it says is a more accurate estimate compared to other assessments.
  • Read more about the group's methodology here.

Zoom in: While the Midwest saw the biggest increases in the examined time period, food insecurity remains a particularly urgent crisis in the South, too.

  • "Eight out of 10 high food insecurity counties are in the South," the report reads, adding that the South "contains 45% of all counties but is home to an estimated 84% of counties with food insecurity rates in the top 10%."

Follow the money: The national food budget shortfall — that is, the money that food-insecure people would need to cover just the cost of their food — hit a record high of $33.1 billion in 2022, up 43% from 2021.

  • After adjusting for inflation, that rate increased nearly 10% — which "suggests that rising prices, especially food prices, likely contributed to the increase in this resource gap," per the report.

Caveat: The period analyzed here was marked by the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The pandemic itself, as well as government responses to it (like stimulus payments and increased child tax credits), likely affected food insecurity in ways that won't be captured until future reports.

The bottom line: "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, child care or medical bills is making hunger in America worse," Linda Nageotte, Feeding America president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

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