America’s year of hunger: how children and people of color suffered most

Investigation of a year’s worth of data reveals the scale of America’s hunger and food insecurity crisis during a year of Covid-19

By Nina Lakhani | The Guardian | April 14, 2021 – Graphics by Aliya Uteuova

Black families in the US have gone hungry at two to three times the rate of white families over the course of the pandemic, according to new analysis which suggests political squabbling over Covid aid exacerbated a crisis that left millions of children without enough to eat.

An investigation into food poverty by the Guardian and the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern University found gaping racial inequalities in access to adequate nutrition that threatens the long-term prospects of a generation of Black and brown children.

The statistical analysis by economists at IPR is based on landmark research by the Census Bureau tracking in real time the impact of the pandemic on hunger, jobs, housing, mental health, finances and schooling.

Food insecurity, a more expansive hardship measure than hunger, has been at the highest level since annual records began in the mid-1990s, including after the Great Recession, IPR’s analysis shows.

In the week before Christmas, about 81 million Americans experienced food insecurity, meaning that one in four people in the so-called richest country in the world did not have reliable access to sufficient nutritious food needed for a healthy active life.

Luis Alarcon, Bresee youth center volunteer, gets help loading the foundation’s van with Thanksgiving supplies at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on 19 November.

Luis Alarcon, Bresee youth center volunteer, gets help loading the foundation’s van with Thanksgiving supplies at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on 19 November. Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP

Our analysis, drawing on data from the nationwide surveys, found:

  1. Hunger – defined as not having enough to eat sometimes or often during the previous week – has been reported between 19% and 29% of Black households with children over the course of the pandemic. This compares with 7% to 14% of white American families.

  2. Latino families have experienced the second highest rates of hunger, ranging from 16% to 25% nationally.

  3. Racial disparities varied across states: Black families in Texas reported hunger at four times the rate of white families in some weeks, as did Latinos in New York.

  4. Overall, hunger declined sharply last month, but is falling far slower for people of color.

“Food insecurity and poverty are absolutely racialized, so it’s horrifying, but not surprising, that Black and brown people have suffered disproportionately,” said Paul Taylor, executive director of FoodShare, a Toronto-based food justice organization.

Since the start of the pandemic, hunger in America has soared amid mass layoffs, nationwide school closures and political infighting over relief packages. Families with children have suffered most: the rate of hunger has been 41% to 83% higher for households with children than adult-only ones.

Black and Latino families have gone hungry at much higher rates than white and Asian Americans through the course of the pandemic – in large part due to longstanding racial economic inequalities that have never been addressed. As states reopen and Biden’s aid package reaches those in need, the hunger rate is falling at a slower pace for Black and Latino Americans than white households.