Economic Research Report No. (ERR-140) 36 pp

August 2012

Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts

USDA's Economic Research Service previously identified more than 6,500 food desert tracts in the United States based on 2000 Census and 2006 data on locations of supermarkets, supercenters, and large grocery stores. In this report, we examine the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of these tracts to see how they differ from other census tracts and the extent to which these differences influence food desert status. Relative to all other census tracts, food desert tracts tend to have smaller populations, higher rates of abandoned or vacant homes, and residents who have lower levels of education, lower incomes, and higher unemployment. Census tracts with higher poverty rates are more likely to be food deserts than otherwise similar low-income census tracts in rural and in very dense (highly populated) urban areas. For less dense urban areas, census tracts with higher concentrations of minority populations are more likely to be food deserts, while tracts with substantial decreases in minority populations between 1990 and 2000 were less likely to be identified as food deserts in 2000.

Keywords: Food deserts, food access, low income, census tracts

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