Feeding America Local Food Insecurity Projections Find Food Insecurity Still Elevated Compared to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Report Includes U.S. Food Insecurity Projections for State, County and Congressional District Levels

March 31, 2021

Feeding America today released local-level food insecurity projections for 2021, which show that food insecurity has remained elevated compared to pre-pandemic levels for 96% of counties. Feeding America projects that 12.9% of people overall (42 million) and 17.9% of children (13 million) live in households that may be food insecure in 2021, with overall county-level food insecurity ranging from 3.7% to 29.2%. For children, there are some counties that are projected to have nearly half of their child population facing food insecurity.

The study, The Impact of the Coronavirus on Local Food Insecurity in 2020 and 2021, provides a snapshot of food insecurity at the state, congressional district and county level prior to the pandemic and presents the likely impact the ensuing economic crisis has had on food insecurity levels in the U.S. In addition, for the first time, Feeding America has produced local-level projections of very low food security, a more severe range of food insecurity that involves reduced food intake and disrupted eating patterns.

“The COVID-19 pandemic had an immediate impact on millions of people who lost jobs and wages,” said Tom Summerfelt, VP of Research at Feeding America. “By using our Map the Meal Gap study, we leveraged a proven model to estimate the potential impact and help the Feeding America network respond to the food security crisis created by the health crisis.”

For ten years, Feeding America has produced local-level estimates of food insecurity through Map the Meal Gap in partnership with Dr. Craig Gundersen. The same model that is used to estimate historical local food insecurity levels can also predict food insecurity using projected changes to variables in the model. In this case, Feeding America and Dr. Gundersen used projected changes to unemployment and poverty as two variables that have a statistically significant and substantial effect on food insecurity estimates and are likely to be most directly affected by COVID-19.

For the most part, the study finds that trends hold; places with higher rates of food insecurity before the pandemic will see higher rates in 2020 and 2021. Moreover, the significant racial disparities in food insecurity that existed before COVID-19 remain in the wake of the pandemic.

Key projections for state food insecurity:

  • Mississippi is projected to have the highest food insecurity rate (18.7%) in 2021 for the overall population, and Louisiana is projected to have the highest child food insecurity rate (26.0%).
  • Texas could have the most food insecure individuals (4.8 M) and children (1.7 M) in the country as well as the most people (1.8 M) and children (.5 M) living in households with very low food security.

Key projections for county-level food insecurity:

  • The projected rate of food insecurity among the overall population for 2021 ranges from a low of 3.7% in Steele County, North Dakota, to a high of 29.2% in Presidio County, Texas./li>
  • The projected rate of child food insecurity for 2021 ranges from a low of 2.8% in Falls Church, Virginia, to a high of 46.5% in Zavala County Texas.
  • Counties with a population that is majority Black, Latino, or Native American make up 18 of 25 counties (72%) with the highest projected food insecurity rates for 2021, yet only 12% of all U.S. counties have a majority non-white population.

Feeding America issued the first projections for 2020 last April, with an update later in October. It is good news that, overall, food insecurity in 2020 may have been lower than originally anticipated, and that food insecurity in 2021 looks likely to improve relative to 2020 in most places. Without the response from federal and local governments and the generosity of the private sector – individuals, corporations, foundations and communities – more people would have faced additional hardship in the past year.

The Feeding America network of 200 food banks hopes to partner with local policymakers and leaders and utilize these projections as they work together to address food insecurity in their local communities.

As new information on the economic outlook for 2021 comes out, Feeding America will release revised projections whenever there are significant changes to the underlying assumptions, such as projected unemployment and poverty rates for the year.

More information on Feeding America’s research on the COVID-19 pandemic, including research briefs and datasets, can be found at https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/coronavirus-hunger-research.

To join and learn more about Feeding America’s COVID-19 response efforts, visit feedingamerica.org/covid19.


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

About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of more than 200 food banks, 21 statewide food bank associations, and over 60,000 partner agencies, food pantries and meal programs, we helped provide 5.3 billion meals to tens of millions of people in need last year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; brings attention to the social and systemic barriers that contribute to food insecurity in our nation; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit www.feedingamerica.org, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.