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Food insecurity triples for families with children during COVID-19 pandemic

Data show nearly half worry they will run out of food and have no money for more

New evidence is emerging from surveys since the COVID-19 pandemic began that shows dramatic increases in food insecurity as well as very low food security — a more severe condition in which there have been substantial disruptions or reductions in food intake — among adults, children and vulnerable populations.

Northwestern University economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, director of the University’s Institute for Policy Research, is available to comment on her data analysisfrom the COVID Impact Survey, in which she and research analyst Abigail Pitts take several approaches to contextualizing current levels of food insecurity in the United States:

  • They analyze data from the survey to describe levels of food insecurity by race, income and presence of children over the past month.
  • They estimate the increase in food insecurity last month by comparing it to a similar measure of food insecurity that has been collected monthly from 2011–18 in nationally representative data. From this, they make projections about the likely rates of food insecurity on the eve of the COVID-19 crisis.
  • They estimate how much of the increase in food insecurity experienced in April can be explained by the increase in that month’s unemployment rate. They find that the actual increase in food insecurity is substantially larger than what would have been predicted, especially among families with children.
  • They describe self-reported use of emergency food assistance through food pantries.
  • They provide estimates of food insecurity and food pantry use for states and metropolitan areas represented in the survey. 

Follow Schanzenbach on Twitter @dwschanz and @IPRatNU for more on her ongoing research about food insecurity during COVID-19.