ERS Charts of Note
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Tuesday, August 1, 2023
During the past 20 years, households with children headed by a single female consistently showed higher average rates of food pantry use than other household types, including male-headed households with children and married couple households with children. The cost of childcare, education, healthcare, housing, and other expenses can strain a family’s budget, leaving less income available for food purchases. This financial strain may lead parents to seek assistance from food pantries to meet their families’ food needs. Food pantries, often affiliated with faith-based organizations, typically provide free food for people to take home and prepare. The use of food pantries increased in 2009 during the end of the Great Recession and increased in 2020 during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with average rates increasing more than any previous year. In 2021, 7 percent of households with children used food pantries at some point during the year, compared with 5.6 percent of all households. Among households with children, 4.4 percent of married-couple households used food pantries, while 13.8 percent of single female-headed households and 8 percent of single male-headed households used them. Food pantry use among households with children headed by females fluctuated from 9.4 percent in 2001 to 18.3 percent in 2020. The data for this chart come from the USDA, Economic Research Service’s 2001-2021 annual reports on Household Food Security in the United States. The release of the 2022 Household Food Security in the United States report and corresponding statistical supplement is scheduled for October 25, 2023, because of updates to the survey instrument implemented in 2022.
Monday, October 24, 2022
About 100,000 U.S. public and private nonprofit schools participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which served about 4.9 billion lunches in fiscal year 2019. The majority of foods served through the NSLP are bought through typical market channels, such as foodservice distributors, with USDA cash reimbursements to schools supporting their purchase. However, schools also make use of the USDA Foods in Schools Program (USDA Foods). Schools have two options for acquiring fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods: USDA Foods purchased by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which supplies mainly canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, and fresh fruits and vegetables distributed through the USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (DoD Fresh). After school meal nutrition standards were updated in 2012, schools were required to serve more fruits and a wider mix of vegetables, including dark green and red/orange vegetables. Following the change in standards, schools obtained more fruits and vegetables through USDA Foods and especially through DoD Fresh. While there was no clear change in the types of foods chosen from 2006 to 2012, the percent of USDA Foods entitlement funds used for purchasing fruits and vegetables from DoD Fresh rose sharply from 6.7 percent of total USDA Foods in 2012 to 15 percent in 2017. Fruit obtained through AMS—mainly canned and frozen—rose from 9.4 percent of total USDA Foods spending in 2012 to 15.4 percent in 2017. Vegetables obtained from USDA’s AMS slightly rose from 2012 to 2017. As the percentage of spending on fruits and vegetables increased, the percentage spent on meat, poultry, and cheese dropped from nearly 74 percent in 2012 to 61 percent in 2017. This chart appears in the ERS report, Trends in USDA Foods Ordered for Child Nutrition Programs Before and After Updated Nutrition Standards, released September 1, 2022.
Tuesday, February 15, 2022
USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides low-income U.S. households assistance to buy food items, which helps to support the economy during periods of high unemployment. Researchers at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) studied the effect SNAP benefits had on the rural and urban economies during the period of high unemployment following the Great Recession from 2009–14. They found household spending of SNAP benefits contributed disproportionately more to the rural economy. SNAP benefits can only be used on food items—farm goods (such as fruits, vegetables, and milk) and processed foods (such as breads and pastas)—but using them frees up money to spend on other nonfood items. ERS researchers found SNAP benefit spending caused a ripple effect that helped to support local jobs and contributed to economic output through the production of goods and services. During the 6-year period, average annual SNAP benefit expenditures of $71 billion (in 2014 dollars) generated an annual increase in rural economic output of $49 billion and an urban output of $149 billion. Expenditures supported the employment of 279,000 rural workers and 811,000 urban workers. When measured in total dollars and numbers of jobs, household spending of SNAP benefits generated larger economic impacts in the urban economy. However, when measured as a share of total economic output and employment, SNAP generated larger relative impacts in the rural economy. Household expenditures of SNAP benefits increased rural economic output annually by 1.25 percent and rural employment by 1.18 percent. For the urban economy, SNAP benefits increased economic output by 0.53 percent and employment by 0.50 percent. This chart appears in the Amber Waves finding USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Contributed to Rural Economic Output, Jobs Following the Great Recession, released December 7, 2021.
Monday, August 5, 2019
Limited access to the healthy and affordable foods stocked in supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores may impede some Americans from achieving a healthy diet. How far someone lives from these food stores and whether the shopper has access to a vehicle are important components of food access. ERS researchers identified low-income census tracts in 2015 that also had low food access based on distance to a supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store and access to a vehicle. (See chart note for definitions of low income and low food access.) In 2015, five States (Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia had the highest shares of low-income/low-food-access census tracts (more than 24 percent of each State’s total tracts) using the ERS measure. Vermont and Hawaii had the lowest shares of low-income/low-food-access tracts—6.0 percent and 6.7 percent, respectively. This chart appears in the ERS report, Understanding Low-Income and Low-Access Census Tracts Across the Nation: Subnational and Subpopulation Estimates of Access to Healthy Food, May 2019.
Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Distance from a person’s home to the nearest food store (supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store) indicates the ease of access to a major source of a variety of healthful foods. However, a food store with no close-by competitors may not offer the best price, quality, or selection of products. ERS researchers used a variety of data sets to calculate distances between households’ residences and the nearest and third-nearest food stores for U.S. census tracts. Census tracts where the population-weighted center of the tract (i.e., based on where people live within the tract) was within 5 miles of the nearest food store and between 10 and 20 miles from the third-nearest food store were concentrated in the Midwest and portions of the eastern half of the United States. The majority of census tracts where the population-weighted center was within 5 miles of the nearest food store, but more than 20 miles from the third-nearest food store were in portions of the Great Plains section of the Midwest and the Southwest. This chart appears in “U.S. Shoppers’ Access to Multiple Stores Varies by Region” in the June 2019 edition of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
Some Americans and some neighborhoods have limited access to the variety of healthful foods offered by food stores (supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores). A recent ERS study examined food store access by State in terms of what share of the census tracts in each State were both low income and had low access to food stores. (See chart notes for definitions of census tracts, low income, and low food access.) States with the greatest shares of low-income/low-access tracts tended to be in the South, reflecting that region’s higher poverty rates relative to other regions. In three States—Arkansas, Mississippi, and New Mexico—more than 25 percent of tracts were low income and low access in 2015. In that same year, less than 5 percent of the tracts in New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and the District of Columbia were low income and low access. This chart appears in the ERS report, Understanding Low-Income and Low-Access Census Tracts Across the Nation: Subnational and Subpopulation Estimates to Access to Healthy Food, May 2019.
Friday, July 14, 2017
Poor households often lack the savings, assets, and income to protect themselves from unexpected increases in energy prices (called energy price shocks). A recent ERS study explored the relationship between energy price shocks and food hardship, including food insecurity—not having resources to acquire enough food for some or all household members. The study found that price shocks in gasoline, natural gas, and electricity increased the probability of households becoming food insecure and/or experiencing two other food hardship measures, with a larger response for low-income households compared to the average response for all households. Natural gas price shocks had the most consistent effects. Over 2000-14, annual price increases for natural gas ranged from 7 to 25 percent, and some years posted price declines. The study found that increases in natural gas prices above these typical increases, i.e. unexpected, large price rises estimated to average 41 percent above prior years’ prices, raised the probability of needing more money for food by 1.0 percentage point for all households in the data set and by 1.4 percentage points for low-income households. The unexpected, large price increases also increased the probability of food stress by 1.2 percentage points for all households and 2.2 percentage points for low-income households. Natural gas price shocks increased the probability of food insecurity by 2.3 percentage points for low-income households, more than double the response for all households. This chart appears in "Unexpected Hikes in Energy Prices Increase the Likelihood of Food Insecurity" from ERS’s Amber Waves magazine, July 2017.
Friday, May 19, 2017
While households spend more money on food as their incomes rise, food expenditures represent a smaller portion of income as households allocate additional funds to other goods. In 2015, U.S. households in the highest income quintile spent an average of $12,350 on food—both from grocery stores and eating out. This spending accounted for 8.7 percent of their incomes. Middle income households spent an average of $5,799 on food, or 12.4 percent of their incomes. Households in the lowest income quintile spent less for food on average—$3,767 in 2015—but their food expenditures accounted for 33 percent of their incomes. Two years earlier, the lowest income quintile spent 36.2 percent of their incomes on food. The share of income spent on food depends on several factors, including food prices and incomes. While retail food price inflation was relatively low in 2013, income levels were also lower than in 2015, contributing to the higher percent of income spent on food in 2013 by the lowest income households. Food expenditures as a share of income could fall in 2016 and 2017 across income levels due to declining retail food prices in 2016 and a continued trend downwards in prices for some foods in 2017. This chart is from ERS’s Selected charts from Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, 2017, released April 28, 2017.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Over the past two and a half decades, U.S. households in the lowest income quintile (the poorest 20 percent of households) spent between 28.8 and 42.6 percent of their annual before-tax income on food, compared with 6.5 to 9.2 percent spent by households in the highest income quintile. Before-tax income includes earnings and other money income, public assistance, Supplemental Security Income payments, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The share of income spent on food is more volatile for poorer households reflecting their less stable incomes and changes in grocery store (food-at-home) prices. Higher at-home food prices disproportionately affect the spending behavior of low-income households and often require them to allocate a larger share of their incomes to food. The lowest income households saw their share of income spent on food drop from 41.1 to 28.8 percent over the years 2001 to 2007, rise to 35.5 percent in 2009, rise again to 37.8 percent in 2013, and return to 35.5 percent in 2014. Over the same period, the highest income households saw relatively minor yearly swings of 0.5 to 1.0 percentage points. This chart appears in “Percent of Income Spent on Food Falls as Income Rises” in the September 2016 issue of ERS’s Amber Waves magazine.
Friday, August 12, 2016
Using data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and a modified official poverty measure, ERS researchers found that rural child poverty rose from 18.7 percent in 2003 to 22.1 percent in 2014. The bulk of this 3.4-percentage point increase—3.2 percentage points—was due to rising income inequality, and not a decline in average incomes. A portion of this increase in inequality, in turn, was driven by changing rural demographics. An increase in the number of children in the average rural family raised poverty by 0.6 percentage points, while declines in the number of adults of prime working age and in the share of household heads that were married raised rural child poverty by 0.9 and 0.7 points, respectively. A slight increase in the average age of the household head helped reduce rural child poverty by 0.5 percentage points. The most beneficial demographic change was a rise in the share of rural household heads with a college degree, which rose from 15.8 to 19.5 percent, helping to reduce child poverty by 0.9 percentage points. The net impact of all these demographic changes was to contribute 0.9 percentage points towards the increase in rural child poverty. This chart is based on a data table found in the May 2016 Amber Waves feature, “Understanding Trends in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-14.”
Friday, June 17, 2016
By 2014, average income (adjusted for inflation) for all U.S. families with children exceeded prerecession levels, and average income had almost completely recovered for all rural families with children as well. For the bottom 25 percent of rural families (when ranked by income), however, average income remained considerably below its prior peak. In 2003, the average income for families in this lowest income quartile was $17,200 (in 2014 dollars) and it fell by 6.0 percent between 2003 and 2007, despite the fact that the U.S. economy was growing. Not surprisingly, incomes for the bottom quartile fell by another 4.6 percent between 2007 and 2010, due to the Great Recession (December 2007-June 2009). When economic growth resumed, however, it did not immediately translate into growth for these low-income rural families: by 2012, their average income had fallen by another 10.1 percent. Average income for the bottom quartile rebounded somewhat between 2012 and 2014, but remained 13.4 percent below the 2003 level. This chart is based on the Amber Waves feature, “Understanding Trends in Rural Child Poverty, 2003-14.”
Thursday, October 8, 2015
In general, households are eligible to participate in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) if their gross monthly incomes do not exceed 130 percent of the poverty line, and if they meet other net income and asset criteria. Households with disabled or elderly members can qualify with higher incomes, and some States have adopted higher income thresholds. ERS researchers recently linked American Community Survey (ACS) data to SNAP administrative records from the State of New York to get a more complete look at whether SNAP benefits are reaching the poorest households. When researchers adjusted the households, as defined by the ACS, to reflect the SNAP definition of a household, they found that 71.6 percent of New York households receiving SNAP had annual incomes at or below 130 percent of poverty, compared with 63.1 percent using just the ACS data. Fifty-three percent of the New York SNAP households with incomes above 130 percent of poverty had an elderly or disabled member or a child. New York allows households with dependent care expenses to qualify for SNAP with gross monthly incomes up to 200 percent of poverty. This chart appears in “Linking Administrative and Survey Data Provides a More Complete Picture of Whether SNAP Benefits Reach the Poorest Households” in the September 2015 issue of Amber Waves magazine.
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) served an average of 46.5 million people per month in fiscal 2014. The percent of Americans participating in the program declined from 15.0 percent in 2013 to 14.6 percent in 2014, marking the first decline in the percent of the population receiving SNAP since 2001. Between 2013 and 2014, 42 States and the District of Columbia saw a decrease in the percent of residents receiving SNAP benefits, while 8 States experienced small increases. The percent of State populations receiving SNAP benefits ranged from a low of 6.1 in Wyoming to a high of 21.9 in Mississippi, reflecting differences in need and in program policies. Southeastern States have a particularly high share of residents receiving SNAP benefits, with participation rates of 15.8 to 21.9 percent. Utah had the largest decline from 2013 to 2014 and joined Wyoming and North Dakota as States with less than 8 percent of the population receiving SNAP benefits. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, updated May 7, 2015.
Monday, May 4, 2015
While households spend more money on food when their incomes rise, food expenditures represent a smaller portion of income as households allocate additional funds to other goods. In 2013, U.S. households in the middle income quintile, with an average 2013 after-tax income of $43,592, spent an average of $5,728 on food, or 13.1 percent of their incomes. The lowest income households—those with annual after-tax incomes of $10,092 and below in 2013—spent $3,655 on food on average, or 36.2 percent of their incomes. Since 2009, rising food prices and falling incomes put pressure on food budgets. In pre-recession 2006, households in the lowest income quintile spent 32 percent of their incomes on food and middle income households 12.8 percent. Between 2006 and 2013, average incomes for the lowest quintile rose only 1.2 percent and fell 0.5 percent for middle income earners. This chart is from the Food Prices and Spending section of ERS’s Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials data product.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Income eligibility for USDA’s WIC program is capped at 185 percent of the Federal poverty level. Applicants who demonstrate current eligibility for Medicaid automatically meet income eligibility for WIC and do not have to document their incomes when they apply for WIC. With a large and increasing share of WIC applicants reporting participation in Medicaid at the time of WIC certification (73 percent in 2012, up from 66 percent in 2010), there has been concern that if States continue to raise their Medicaid income cutoffs to greater than 185 percent of the Federal poverty level this might result in WIC serving a larger share of participants with incomes above the intended cap. However, that has not happened. The share of WIC participants with incomes at or below poverty has been steadily increasing since 2000. The share of WIC participants with incomes at or below 50 percent of the poverty line has increased from 26.5 percent to 33.4 percent in 2012, and the share with incomes between 51-100 percent has grown from 29.1 percent to 33.2 percent in 2012. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, The WIC Program: Background, Tends, and Economic Issues, 2015 Edition, released January 27, 2015.
Monday, December 9, 2013
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment insurance are two countercyclical assistance programs. In economic downturns, more people become eligible for the programs and participation grows. A recent ERS report found that the poorest SNAP households are the most likely to rely on SNAP alone without unemployment insurance, perhaps because they lack the work histories and sufficient earnings to be eligible for unemployment insurance. In 2009, just 6.7 percent of SNAP households with annual incomes below 50 percent of the poverty line also received unemployment insurance. In comparison, 22.6 percent of SNAP households with incomes between 150 and 199 percent of poverty received unemployment insurance. In 2005 (a full-employment year), 3.6 percent of SNAP households in the lowest income group received unemployment assistance. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS report, Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Unemployment Insurance: How Tight Are the Strands of the Recessionary Safety Net?, November 2013.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Unemployment rose sharply during the 2007-09 recession, and households whose members were eligible for unemployment insurance became a larger component of the SNAP caseload, increasing the share of SNAP households that also receive unemployment insurance. A recent ERS study found that an estimated 14.4 percent of SNAP households also received unemployment insurance at some point in 2009—nearly double the estimate of 7.8 percent in 2005 (a full-employment year). SNAP households with a more educated householder (head of household) are more likely to receive support from both programs, as individuals with little schooling are perhaps less likely to have work histories and sufficient earnings to be eligible for unemployment insurance. In 2009, 8.1 percent of SNAP households headed by someone with less than a 9th grade education also received unemployment insurance, and 10.8 percent of SNAP households headed by someone with some high school, but no diploma, received unemployment insurance. For SNAP households with a householder having a high school diploma or higher, the share receiving support from both programs was statistically equivalent at between 14.2 and 16.9 percent. The statistics for this chart are from the ERS report, Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Unemployment Insurance: How Tight Are the Strands of the Recessionary Safety Net?, ERR-157, released on November 7, 2013.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the Nation’s second largest food and nutrition assistance program. In fiscal year 2012, expenditures totaled $11.6 billion and an average 31.6 million children participated in the program on a typical school day. While total participation is closely linked to school enrollment and does not vary with economic conditions, the share of children receiving free or reduced-price lunches rises during economic downturns. During the Great Recession (December 2007 to June 2009) and continuing through 2010, the share of NSLP participants receiving free or reduced-price meals grew from 59 to 65 percent. Preliminary data for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 show that this share continued to rise even after the unemployment rate started to decline, suggesting that economic conditions did not improve enough to raise people out of poverty and the need for assistance remained high. This chart appears in the May 2013 Amber Waves article, “Economic Conditions Affect the Share of Children Receiving Free or Reduced-Price School Lunches.”
Friday, May 17, 2013
Disability has emerged as one of the strongest known factors that affect household food insecurity. Food-insecure households are those that lack consistent access to adequate food for one or more household members. Because they face higher expenses for health care and adaptive equipment, households affected by disabilities require higher incomes to meet their basic needs than do households without members with disabilities. Even households that have incomes greater than three times the poverty level have a relatively high likelihood of being food insecure if they include an adult with a disability. In 2009-10, an estimated 13 percent of households that included a working-age adult not in the labor force due to a disability, and had incomes at least three times the Federal poverty line ($22,113 for a family of four), were food insecure. About 9 percent of households in that income range with an adult with a non-work-preventing disability were food insecure. In comparison, about 4 percent of households in that income range with no working-age adults with disabilities were food insecure. This chart appears in the May 2013 Amber Waves feature article, “Disability Is an Important Risk Factor for Food Insecurity.”
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
In fiscal year 2012, an average of 46.6 million people per month participated in USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP provided benefits averaging $133 per person per month to purchase food items in authorized food stores. Federal spending for the program totaled $78.3 billion in 2012, a 3-percent increase from 2011. The number of people receiving SNAP benefits is the smallest percentage increase (4 percent) since 2007. Historically, changes in U.S. economic conditions significantly affected participation in SNAP, with participation rising during economic downturns and falling during periods of economic growth. While the unemployment rate averaged 8.1 percent in 2012, down from 8.9 percent in 2011, the need for food and nutrition assistance continued. This chart appears in The Food Assistance Landscape, FY 2012 Annual Report released March 15, 2013.