Food Security and Nutrition Assistance

ERS monitors the food security of U.S. households through an annual, nationally representative survey. While most U.S. households are food secure, a minority of U.S. households experience food insecurity at times during the year, meaning that their access to adequate food for active, healthy living is limited by lack of money and other resources. Some experience very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity where food intake of one or more members is reduced and normal eating patterns are disrupted. Reliable monitoring of food security contributes to the effective operation of USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs aimed at reducing food insecurity.

The prevalence of food insecurity increased in 2022 compared with 2021

In 2022, 12.8 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at least some time during the year, meaning they had difficulty providing enough food for all their members because of a lack of resources. The 12.8 percent of food-insecure households (17.0 million households) includes 5.1 percent (6.8 million) that experienced very low food security, a more severe form of food insecurity in which the food intake of some household members was reduced, and normal eating patterns were disrupted. The 2022 prevalence rates for both food insecurity and very low food security were statistically significantly higher than the rates recorded in 2021 (10.2 percent and 3.8 percent).

Food insecurity rates are highest for households with incomes below the poverty line and single-mother households

In 2022, 36.7 percent of households with incomes below the Federal poverty line were food insecure. Food-insecure households include those with low food security and very low food security. Rates of food insecurity were also substantially higher than the national average for single-parent households, and for Black and Hispanic households. Food insecurity was more common in both large cities and rural areas than in suburban areas.

In 2022, 17.3 percent of households with children were affected by food insecurity

Parents often shield children from experiencing food insecurity, particularly very low food security, even when the parents themselves are food insecure. In 2022, 17.3 percent of households with children were food insecure. In about half of those food-insecure households with children, only the adults experienced food insecurity. But in 8.8 percent of households with children, both children and adults were food insecure sometime during the year. In 1.0 percent of U.S. households with children (381,000 households), both children and adults experienced instances of very low food security.

Prevalence of food insecurity is not uniform across the United States

Food insecurity rates differ across States due to both the characteristics of their populations and to State-level policies and economic conditions. The estimated prevalence of food insecurity during 2020–22 ranged from 6.2 percent of households in New Hampshire to 16.6 percent in Arkansas (data for 2020–22 were combined to provide more reliable statistics at the State level).

Total spending on USDA’s food and nutrition assistance programs fell in fiscal year 2022, but remained higher than in pre-pandemic years

Federal spending on USDA's food and nutrition assistance programs totaled $183.0 billion in fiscal year 2022, 6 percent less than fiscal year 2021, adjusted for inflation. Inflation-adjusted spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the largest USDA food and nutrition assistance program, was 1 percent lower than the record high spending in fiscal year 2021. Spending on the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) increased by 7 percent. Combined spending on child nutrition programs increased by 19 percent. Combined spending on other programs fell in fiscal year 2022, primarily due to lower spending on Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) and the expiration of the Farmers to Families Food Box Program midway through fiscal year 2021.

Children accounted for 43 percent of SNAP participants in 2019

In fiscal year 2019, children accounted for 43 percent of all Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants, down about 1 percent from 2018. Children younger than 5 made up 13 percent of participants, while school-age children made up 30 percent. Adults ages 18-59 represented 42 percent of SNAP participants in fiscal year 2019, unchanged from fiscal year 2018. The share of the SNAP caseload age 60 and older grew from 14 percent in fiscal year 2018 to 16 percent in fiscal year 2019.

Participation in SNAP varies across States, reflecting differences in need and program policies

In fiscal year 2022, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) served an average of 41.1 million people per month, or 12.3 percent of U.S. residents. The share of residents receiving SNAP benefits in each State ranged from as high as 24.5 percent in New Mexico to as low as 4.6 percent in Utah. In 35 States, the share was somewhere between 8 and 16 percent.

Last updated: Wednesday, November 29, 2023

For more information, contact: Anikka Martin