Food Insecurity Disparities by Race and Ethnicity Are Greater Among Seniors Than Overall Population
Feeding America® today released The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2021, a study about seniors facing hunger in the United States. The report sheds light on the extent to which food insecurity – or having limited access to enough food to live a healthy lifestyle – affects individuals aged 60 and older. The report shows that out of 78 million seniors age 60 or older in the United States, 5.5 million were food insecure in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available.
Food insecurity among seniors did not change significantly between 2020 and 2021, going from 6.8% to 7.1%. However, consistent with the overall population, seniors of color experience food insecurity at disproportionately higher rates compared to their white counterparts as well as the overall food insecure population. In 2021, Black seniors were 3.8 times as likely and Latino seniors were 3 times as likely to experience food insecurity compared to white seniors, compared to 2.9 times and 2.5 times respectively for the overall food insecure population. While the study does not include separate food insecurity estimates for other racial and ethnic groups, it has been shown through other analyses that individuals who identify as Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and some Asian subgroups also have disproportionately high rates of food insecurity.
“If we as a country decide once and for all to end food insecurity in this country, think of what that would mean for our senior neighbors facing hunger,” said Tom Summerfelt, Chief Research Officer at Feeding America. “Food insecurity is so closely tied to health, which becomes especially critical as we age. Also, medical expenses are a key driver of food insecurity, particularly in our elders. Food can work as medicine. Addressing food insecurity among seniors would help reduce chronic health conditions and could result in healthier communities overall.”
The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2021 also found that seniors in multigenerational households experience food insecurity at higher rates. While there are many positive benefits to this type of household structure, in 2021, food insecurity was 2.2 times as high for seniors residing with a grandchild (15.0% vs. 6.8%) and 1.7 times as high for older adults residing with a grandchild (15.4% vs. 9.1%). From a previous Feeding America report last year, a family with lived experience shared, “I am a senior citizen raising two toddlers and do not qualify for any help; my situation falls through the cracks of what society lists as qualified recipients.”
Summerfelt added, “As Congress deliberates on the 2023 Farm Bill, I urge them to think about our parents and grandparents who might not have the resources to put enough food on the table. We urge members of Congress to help ensure people, including our seniors, have access to the nutritious food they need by strengthening federal nutrition programs, such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program and SNAP, in the 2023 Farm Bill.”
The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2021 estimates food insecurity among seniors in 2021 at the national level and provides rates of senior hunger in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia and for 51 large metropolitan areas.
Among the key findings:
- Seniors experiencing food insecurity live in communities across the country, including all 50 states and Washington, D.C. In 2021, senior food insecurity rates at the state level ranged from 2.8% in North Dakota to 13.4% in Louisiana.
- Nine of the ten states with the highest rates of senior food insecurity were located in the South.
- Senior food insecurity in metro areas varied from 2.0% in the Rochester, New York metro area to 13.8% in the New Orleans, Louisiana metro area.
Food insecurity has negative effects for individuals across their lifespan. For seniors, these effects can be particularly problematic given the unique health, economic, and nutritional challenges that can come with aging. The State of Senior Hunger in 2021 also finds that food insecurity disproportionately affects seniors in certain socioeconomic groups. Specifically, in 2021, researchers found:
- Seniors with disabilities (13.4%) had food insecurity rates over twice as high as seniors without disabilities (5.0%).
- An estimated six in ten (57.4%) seniors experiencing food insecurity were female.
- Seniors who live with grandchildren were more likely to be food insecure than seniors who do not (15.0% compared to 6.8%).
- Seniors with relatively higher incomes still struggle to get enough nutritious food. More than half (59.1%) of seniors experiencing food insecurity who reported income had income above the federal poverty line, and a majority were either retired (50.6%) or disabled (28.5%), while only 2.8% were unemployed.
- Seniors who are renters (17.1%) were more than three times more likely to be food insecure than seniors who are homeowners (5.0%).
For the seventh consecutive year, The State of Senior Hunger in America was produced by Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger-relief charity with a nationwide network of 200 food banks, 21 statewide food bank associations, and over 60,000 partner agencies, food pantries and meal programs. The study was conducted by researchers Dr. James P. Ziliak and Dr. Craig Gundersen and is the source for national, state and metro-level information about food insecurity and very low food security among seniors aged 60 and older. An additional report highlighting food insecurity among individuals aged 50-59 was also released as part of The State of Senior Hunger in America report series. The full reports can be found here.
The 2021 rate of food insecurity among seniors remained higher than the pre-Great Recession rate in 2007 of 6.3%. Since it is estimated that the senior population will grow to 104 million by 2050, if the current rate of senior food insecurity does not improve, then more than 7 million seniors could be food insecure.
The study was funded by the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation through its Fill Your Tank program, a multi-year initiative launched in 2016 to address food insecurity in communities around the world. Enterprise’s commitment to Feeding America supports senior hunger and child hunger initiatives in communities across the United States.
Learn more about senior hunger at feedingamerica.org and join the conversation about The State of Senior Hunger using #SolveSeniorHunger.
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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 5.2 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.