Rural Hunger Facts

Rates of food insecurity among rural households are generally higher than urban households. The irony is that many of these food-insecure households are in the very rural and farm communities whose productivity feeds the world and provides low-cost wholesome food for American consumers. 

Challenges facing rural areas differ from metro/urban areas in several significant ways [i]:

  • Employment is more concentrated in low-wage industries;
  • Unemployment and underemployment are greater;
  • Education levels are lower;
  • Work-support services, such as flexible and affordable child care and public transportation, are less available;
  • The rural marketplace offers less access to communication and transportation networks[ii]; and
  • Offers companies less access to activities that foster administration, research and development.

Rural Hunger Facts

  • 15 percent of rural households are food insecure, or an estimated 2.8 million households[iii].
  • 50 percent of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity (those in the top ten percent) are in rural areas. Rural areas also account for 64 percent of counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity. For sake of comparison, 43 percent of all counties are rural. In contrast, 26 percent of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are metropolitan, as are 15 percent of counties with the highest rates of child food insecurity. Thirty-seven percent of all counties are metropolitan.[iv]

Rural Poverty Facts

  • 7.4 million Americans (16.7%) living in rural areas live below the federal poverty line.[v]
  • Compared to all regions, the South continues to have the highest poverty rate among people in families living in rural areas (15.3%) [vi].
  • 47 percent of people in families with a single female head of household living in rural areas were poor in 2015, as compared to 35 percent in the suburbs.[vii]

[i] USDA. Economic Research Service. Leslie A. Whitener, R. Gibbs, and L. Kusmin. Rural Welfare Reform: Lessons Learned. Amber Waves. June 2003.

[ii] USDA. Economic Research Service. Robert Gibbs, L. Kusmin. Low-Skill Employment and the Changing Economy of Rural America. ERR-10. October 2005.

[iii] Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M., Gregory, C., & Singh, A. (2016). Household Food Security in the United States in 2015. Table 2. USDA ERS.

For the purposes of this summary, we have relabeled the designation “Outside metropolitan area” included in the USDA ERS and Census Bureau reports as “rural.” It should be noted that this differs from the term “rural” as it is used to describe the county-specific results as part of Map the Meal Gap 2015. “Outside metropolitan area” includes micropolitan statistical areas as well as territory outside of both metropolitan and micropolitan statistical areas; for county-specific results in MMG, however, “rural” refers to those counties that are neither metropolitan nor micropolitan.

[iv] Gundersen, C., A. Dewey, A. Crumbaugh, M. Kato & E. Engelhard. Map the Meal Gap 2016: Food Insecurity and Child Food Insecurity Estimates at the County Level. Feeding America, 2016.

[v] Proctor, B.D., Semega, J.L., & Kollar, M.A. (2016). Income and Poverty in the United States: 2015. U.S. Census Bureau. 

[vi] U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey. 2015 Annual Social and Economic Supplement. POV43: Region, Divison and Type of Residence—Poverty Status for People in Families With Related Children Under 18 by Family Structure: 2015. Below 100% of Poverty—All Races.

[vii] Ibid.                                                                                                         


Stay Informed

Get email updates about what we're doing to help solve hunger and how you can help.