WASHINGTON — Food insecurity for households with children declined to its lowest rate in 20 years last yr, the Agriculture Department said on Wednesday, as government assistance programs continued to blunt the effect of the coronavirus on the economy.
The department’s findings were consistent with data last yr showing that vast expansions of presidency aid helped reduce hunger. But experts warned that picture was almost certain to vary as pandemic-era programs expire and inflation stays high.
“The social safety net for families with children was more generous in 2021 than it has been, and higher than it’s now,” said Sarah Bowen, a sociology professor at North Carolina State University and an authority in food insecurity. “This shows that food insecurity is a solvable problem. Now we have the facility to repair it.”
In a report released on Wednesday, the Agriculture Department said that about 4.6 million households with children were food insecure sooner or later, a rate of 12.5 percent. That was the bottom rate since at the very least 1998, the oldest yr with comparable data.
Overall, household food insecurity remained level in 2021, the department said. About 13.5 million American households, or about 10.2 percent, were food insecure, or had difficulty providing food for all members of the family due to an absence of cash. That was statistically unchanged from the previous two years.
But for households without children, particularly for ladies and seniors living alone, food insecurity increased.
Unfortunately, Ms. Bowen added, the report “also shows that it may worsen if we do nothing.”
Data released last yr showed that food insecurity remained unchanged, despite mass unemployment and an economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. The finding was at odds with past experiences, when recessions led to a spike in hunger. Experts attributed that shift to big expansions of presidency aid, which continued into 2021, and extra changes to food assistance programs.
Amongst them were an expansion of the kid tax credit, which gave most families tons of of dollars a month; pandemic laws, which increased advantages for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and made school meals universally free; and an emergency program that reimbursed families for missed school meals.
Those changes, coupled with a recovering economy and college reopenings, particularly benefited households with children and contributed to the decline in hunger amongst families, experts said.
In contrast, households without children and seniors didn’t qualify for the expanded child tax credit or profit from free school meals. Lauren Bauer, a researcher on the Brookings Institution who focuses on social safety net policies, said the rise in food insecurity amongst those groups is also attributed to changes in household size, including losing members of the family or the declining propensity of older people to work.
Food insecurity also declined for households with Black Americans, to 19.8 percent last yr from 21.7 percent in 2020. The gap between Black and white households also narrowed to 12.8 percent from 14.6 percent in 2020, but remained wider than the prepandemic figure of 11.2 percent in 2019.
Experts said that the portrait of hunger in the USA would change this yr provided that most of the assistance programs had lapsed.
“Despite the fact that we’ve got evidence that these policies worked, we haven’t managed to preserve most of them,” Professor Bowen said.
“I’m fearful that 2022 goes to be a very hard yr for a number of families, and that there isn’t the identical sense of urgency that there was two years ago,” she added.