One in Six American Households Still Struggle to Put Food on the Table, Food Research & Action Center Report Finds

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U.S. makes progress addressing food hardship, but still millions of Americans live in households that struggle to afford food.

Top 20 States with Worst Food Hardship Rates

“Food hardship is a serious national problem that requires a serious national response,” said Jim Weill, president, Food Research & Action Center.

The United States has made significant progress in addressing food hardship since the Great Recession, but still millions of Americans live in households that struggle to put food on the table, according to a report, How Hungry is America?, released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). The report found one in six Americans (16 percent) said in 2015 that there had been times over the past 12 months that they didn’t have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed. This reflects a three point drop from the 18.9 percent rate in 2013, and the lowest rate since early 2008. The report also looks at food hardship in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and 109 Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). Despite the improvement, the report reveals that still no corner of the country is immune to hunger.

“It’s good to see progress, but the food hardship rate is still unacceptable,” said Jim Weill, president of FRAC. “The data in this report represent an economic and political failure that is leaving tens of millions of Americans struggling with hunger, and this struggle is happening in every community in America. We must redouble our efforts to ensure no American is left behind.”

Key Findings:

  • Nationally, one in six households reported they struggled to afford to buy food.
  • Rates of food hardship in 2015 varied from a low of 8.4 percent in North Dakota to a high of 23 percent in Mississippi.
  • 31 states had at least one in seven respondent households (14.3 percent or more) answer that they did not have enough money to buy food at some point in the past 12 months.
  • The states with the worst food hardship rates are: Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Of the 16 states with the worst food hardship rates, eight were in the Southeast.
  • Of the 109 large MSAs surveyed, 93 had at least one in eight (12.5 percent or more) households affirmatively answer that they struggle to afford food.
  • The worst MSAs are: Bakersfield, CA; Lakeland, FL; Memphis, TN-MS-AR; and Jackson, MS.

“Food hardship is a serious national problem that requires a serious national response,” said Weill. “It is crucial that the nation take actions that will dramatically decrease food hardship numbers. The cost of not doing so — in terms of damage to health, education, early childhood development, and productivity — is just too high. The moral cost of not doing so is even higher.”

FRAC outlines recommendations in the report for addressing food hardship, including boosting jobs, wages, and public programs for struggling families, such as benefits and eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and child nutrition programs. These and other recommendations are described in FRAC’s Plan of Action to End Hunger in America.

“How Hungry is America? analyzes survey data collected by Gallup through the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Gallup measures food hardship with the following question: “Have there been times in the past 12months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” In this report, FRAC defines an answer of “yes” as reflecting “food hardship.” FRAC uses this phrase to avoid confusion with the annual Census Bureau/USDA survey and analysis that produces “food insecurity” numbers, but the concepts are comparable. Results are based on telephone (landline or cellular) interviews in 2015 for national and state estimates, and in 2014 and 2015 for MSA estimates, with randomly sampled adults, age 18 or older in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Total sample sizes for the food hardship question for 2014 and 2015 were 176,699 and 176,816 respectively. Margins of error were calculated using 90 percent confidence intervals.

The full report is available at

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The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) is the leading national nonprofit organization working to improve public policies and public-private partnerships to eradicate hunger and undernutrition in the United States.

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Colleen Barton Sutton
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