Feeding America: Landmark New Study Reveals Unprecedented Number of Americans Seeking Food

February 2, 2010

A landmark study released today from Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, reports that more than 37 million people, one in eight Americans -- including 14 million children and nearly 3 million seniors -- receive emergency food each year through the nation's network of food banks and the agencies they serve. The findings represent a staggering 46 percent increase since the organization's previously released study in 2006.

Hunger in America 2010 is the first research study to capture the significant connection between the recent economic downturn and an increased need for emergency food assistance. The number of children and adults in need of food as a result of experiencing food insecurity has significantly increased.

More than one in three client households are experiencing very low food security–or hunger–a 54 percent increase in the number of households compared to four years ago.

An estimated 5.7 million people receive emergency food assistance each week from a food pantry, soup kitchen, or other agency served by one of Feeding America's more than 200 food banks. This is a 27 percent increase over numbers reported in Hunger in America 2006, which reported that 4.5 million people were served each week.

"Clearly, the economic recession, resulting in dramatically increasing unemployment nationwide, has driven unprecedented, sharp increases in the need for emergency food assistance and enrollment in federal nutrition programs," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America."Hunger in America 2010 exposes the absolutely tragic reality of just how many people in our nation don't have enough to eat. Millions of our clients are families with children finding themselves in need of food assistance for the very first time."

Many of the people served by Feeding America food banks report they are struggling with unemployment, difficult choices between food and other basic necessities along with the pressures of skyrocketing healthcare costs. While 36 percent of client households have at least one adult working, Hunger in America 2010 reports a 68 percent increase over four years ago in the number of adults seeking emergency food assistance who have been unemployed for under a year. More than 46 percent of clients served report having to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food; 39 percent said they had to choose between paying for rent or a mortgage and food; 34 percent report having to choose between paying for medical bills and food; and 35 percent must choose between transportation and food.

"It is morally reprehensible that we live in the wealthiest nation in the world where one in six people are struggling to make choices between food and other basic necessities," said Escarra."These are choices that no one should have to make, but particularly households with children. Insufficient nutrition has adverse effects on the physical, behavioral and mental health, and academic performance of children. It is critical that we ensure that no child goes to bed hungry in America as they truly are our engine of economic growth and future vitality."

The methodology incorporated into the 2010 study includes data collected from February through June 2009. Feeding America collected quantitative feedback from 61,000 face-to-face in-depth interviews with people seeking emergency food assistance and more than 37,000 agency surveys, making this the largest, most comprehensive study ever conducted on domestic hunger. The results are based on surveys conducted at food pantries, soup kitchens, and other emergency feeding programs.

This report is based on independent research conducted on behalf of Feeding America by Mathematica Policy Research, a widely respected nonpartisan social policy research firm based in Princeton, New Jersey. Mathematica is nationally recognized as a leader in the field of human services research. Feeding America contracted with Mathematica to work with 185 network member participants who voluntarily agreed to collect data in their communities.

USDA reported in November 2009 that an estimated 49 million people, including 17 million children, are at risk of hunger. Hunger in America 2010 reinforces the dramatically increasing need for food assistance in the United States, with 70 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens and 73 percent of emergency shelters reporting that they are facing one or more problems that threaten their ability to continue operating. Problems relating to funds and food supplies were the two most commonly cited threats.

"While we have reached many more people over the past four years, the need of hungry Americans far outpaces our current level of service," stated Escarra."We will continue to partner with federal and state governments, corporate and individual donors and other hunger-relief organizations to bring more food and funds into the charitable distribution system and connect people with federal benefits until every man, woman and child has access to adequate food and nutrition."

Among other key comparative findings in the report:

  • 50 percent increase in the number of children served annually.
  • 66 percent increase in the number of Hispanics served annually.
  • 26 percent increase in the number of African-Americans served annually.
  • 64 percent increase in the number of households with seniors facing very low food security–or hunger.
  • 59 percent increase in the number of client households reporting they have to choose between paying their rent or mortgage and food.
  • 40 percent increase in the number of client households with at least one adult working.
  • 60 percent increase in the number of clients who report that someone in their household does not have access to health insurance.
  • 60 percent increase in the number of client households that have an unpaid medical or hospital bill.
  • 64 percent increase in the number of client households receiving SNAP benefits.


A summary of the findings and the full report are available on Feeding America's web site at www.feedingamerica.org/hungerstudy.

Media Resources

Feeding America network client stories

To learn more about Feeding America:

www.youtube.com/feedingamerica

Tweet about Hunger in America 2010 using #HungerStudy


Contact

Please contact one of our media representatives or call 800-771-2303

 

Stay Informed

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