Feeding America Study Shows Deepening Divide in Senior Hunger Rates Along Racial and Ethnic Lines

New study finds that overall senior food insecurity remained unchanged in 2020, yet racial disparities worsened

May 11, 2022

CHICAGO, IL – Feeding America® today released The State of Senior Hunger in America in 2020, 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 76 million seniors, age 60 or older in the United States, 5.2 million were food insecure in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. Food insecurity among seniors did not change significantly between 2019 and 2020, going from 7.1% to 6.8%. However, consistent with the overall population, there was a deepening divide along racial and ethnic lines. The Feeding America study shows that food insecurity worsened among Black seniors, rising from 15.5% to 19.6%, while improving for white seniors, dropping from 5.0% to 4.2%, leading to wider disparities between most groups. In 2020, Black seniors were 4.7 times as likely and Latino seniors were 3.1 times as likely to experience food insecurity compared to white seniors. While the study does not include separate food insecurity estimates for other demographic 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.

Food insecurity is a complex issue, and seniors face many unique challenges when it comes to accessing food. Whether they are choosing between food and medicine or fuel, too many seniors have to make difficult decisions that could have harmful effects on their health and wellbeing and we are seeing that seniors from certain communities are more often having to make these decisions,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America. “We know that in order to achieve our vision of an America where no one is hungry, we have to address the structural and systemic barriers that disproportionately impact many communities of color. With the senior population projected to continue growing over the coming decades, for our parents and grandparents, the time to act is now.”

The 2020 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 State of Senior Hunger in America in 2020 estimates food insecurity among seniors in 2020 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 2020, senior food insecurity rates at the state level ranged from 2.9% in North Dakota to 13.1% in the District of Columbia.
  • Nine of the ten states with the highest rates of food insecurity were located in the South.
  • Senior food insecurity in metro areas varied from 2.5% in the Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota metro area to 13.2% 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 2020 also finds that food insecurity disproportionately affects seniors in certain socioeconomic groups. Specifically, in 2020, researchers found:

  • Seniors with disabilities (11.6%) had food insecurity rates over twice as high as seniors without disabilities (5.3%).
  • An estimated six in ten (57.7%) seniors experiencing food insecurity were female. 
  • Seniors who live with grandchildren were more likely to be food insecure than seniors who do not, 17.8% compared to 6.3%.
  • Seniors with relatively higher incomes still struggle to get enough nutritious food. Over half (51.0%) of seniors experiencing food insecurity had income above the federal poverty line, and a majority were either retired (47.5%) or employed (19.0%), while only 4.9% were unemployed.
  • Seniors who are renters (18.3%) were more than four times more likely to be food insecure than seniors who are homeowners (4.4%).

For the sixth 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 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. It is one of the largest donations aimed at fighting hunger. 

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 5.3 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 X.com.