Oct 30, 2023 - News

Pennsylvania's fight for food security

Share of households that are food insecure
A map of U.S. states showing the share of households that are food insecure, as an average from 2020 to 2022. Southern states had the highest rates of food insecurity, with Arkansas at 16.6%. States in the Northeast and Great Plains reported the lowest levels of food insecurity, with New Hampshire at 6.2%.

10.1% of Pennsylvania households were food insecure on average between 2020-2022, Axios' Emily Peck and Kavya Beheraj report based on new government data.

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 because they didn't have enough money or resources.

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

The big picture: 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.

Between the lines: 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 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program 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.
Data: USDA Economic Research Service; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: USDA Economic Research Service; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom out: Southern states had the highest rates of food insecurity on average between 2020 and 2022.

  • Arkansas led all states in food insecurity with 16.6% during that time, followed by Texas at 15.5%.
  • Meanwhile, New Hampshire had the lowest level of food insecurity during that span (6.2%).

Zoom in: In the Keystone State, 3.9% of households experienced "very low" food security on average between 2020 and 2022.

  • That's lower than the national average (4.3%).

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."
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