Nov 3, 2023 - News

Arkansas has the highest rate of food insecurity in U.S.

Share of households that are food insecure
Data: USDA Economic Research Service; Chart: Axios Visuals

An average of 16.6% of Arkansas households were food insecure between 2020-2022 — higher than any other state in the U.S.

Details: Food insecurity means that at times during the year, a given household couldn't get enough food for one or more of its members for lack of money or resources.

  • Those with "very low" food security eat less or skip meals. In a house with children, the adults might go without so the kids can eat.

Threat level: One in five children — an estimated 134,690 — in Arkansas are food insecure.

What they're saying: When times are tight, it can often be "easiest" to cut back on food, says Lisa Davis, a senior vice president at Share Our Strength, an anti-poverty nonprofit.

  • "If you don't pay the rent or your mortgage, you don't have a place to live. If you don't put gas in the car, you can't get to work," Davis tells Axios.
  • "Food is the place that folks turn when they have to tighten the belt even more."
Data: USDA Economic Research Service; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom out: Looking at just 2022, the share of U.S. households that couldn't reliably afford food rose to 12.8% from 10.2% in 2021, per new U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

  • The national economy might've looked great in 2022 by some metrics — like the low unemployment rate — but not this one.

The big picture: The disappearance of pandemic-era support programs like the child tax credit, which was used by many families with children to buy food and lowered food insecurity rates in 2021, played a role here.

  • But it's complicated. Some SNAP benefits were increased in 2022 — if they hadn't been, these numbers would likely look a lot worse, says Chloe East, an economist and visiting fellow at the Hamilton Project.
  • This is an inflation story, too. And not just in food prices, which were up more than 10% in 2022 — energy prices and rents also soared.
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