In order to address food insecurity, we must first understand it. Every year, Feeding America conducts the Map the Meal Gap study to learn more about food insecurity at the local level. By understanding populations in need, communities can better identify strategies for reaching the people who most need food assistance.
To accurately estimate the number of people who may be food insecure in every U.S. county and congressional district, Map the Meal Gap uses publicly available state and local data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics on factors that research has shown to contribute to food insecurity. These factors include unemployment and poverty, as well as other demographic and household characteristics. Along with estimates of food insecurity for the overall population and for children that have been included in past releases, for the first time in 2022, the study also included local food insecurity estimates for several racial and ethnic groups. The study also estimates the cost of a meal, and the amount of need among people who are food insecure, using local data from Nielsen and national survey data from the Census Bureau.
100% of counties and congressional districts are home to people facing hunger
People in all 3,143 counties and 436 congressional districts in all 50 states and D.C. experience food insecurity. However, levels of food insecurity vary by population and place. The percentage of the overall population estimated to be food insecure ranges from a low of 2% in Griggs County, North Dakota to 26% in Kusilvak Census Area, Alaska. These variations reflect differences in factors such as unemployment and poverty, and often reflect systems and policies that prevent certain households and communities from accessing the food they need. In response to these challenges, multiple interventions have been shown to reduce food insecurity. For example, national food insecurity would likely have been much higher in 2020 and 2021 if not for the unprecedented collective response by the charitable and public sectors to the public health and economic crises caused by COVID-19. Of particular note for 2021 was the 20% increase in the Thrifty Food Plan which led to large increases in benefits for all SNAP recipients.
Food insecurity among Black or Latino individuals is higher than white individuals in over 9 out of every 10 counties
Disparities by race and ethnicity existed before and continue to be stark during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In nearly 99% of counties with comparable data (1,431 out of 1,452), food insecurity among Black individuals is higher than among white, non-Hispanic individuals; these disparities range in magnitude and are as high as 48 percentage points in Cumberland County, Tennessee (59% versus 11%, respectively). In nearly 96% of counties with comparable data (1,695 out of 1,771), food insecurity among Latino individuals is higher than among white, non-Hispanic individuals; these disparities also range in magnitude and are as high as 26 percentage points in Jackson County, Arkansas (42% versus 16%, respectively). In nearly 82% of counties with comparable data (906 out of 1,109), food insecurity among Black individuals is higher than among Latino individuals; these disparities range in magnitude as well and are as high as 37 percentage points in Cumberland County, Tennessee (59% versus 22%, respectively).
County food insecurity varies by as much as 58 percentage points for some racial/ethnic groups
At the local level, estimated food insecurity rates among Black individuals range from less than 1% in Wright County, Minnesota to 59% in Cumberland County, Tennessee. Food insecurity rates among Latino individuals range from approximately 3% in Calvert County, Maryland to 42% in Jackson County, Arkansas. Food insecurity rates among white, non-Hispanic individuals range from less than 1% in the District of Columbia to 28% in Wolfe County, Kentucky.
Child food insecurity rates are higher than 40% in some counties
While approximately 13% (1 in 8) of children across the U.S. may experience food insecurity, estimated rates reach as high as 43% (1 in 2) in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana. Food insecurity is also more prevalent among children than it is among the total population in every state and in more than 8 out of 10 counties (2,593 out of 3,143). The consequences and costs of food insecurity for children of all ages make addressing the issue an economic and social imperative as research demonstrates links between food insecurity and poor child health and behavioral outcomes at every age.
1 in 3 people facing hunger are unlikely to qualify for SNAP
Federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s largest food assistance program, are the first line of defense against hunger. Unlike assistance provided by food banks and similar organizations, however, availability of government support typically varies based in part on household income. In the case of SNAP, state income thresholds range from 130% to 200% of the federal poverty line (between $39,000 to $60,000 for a family of four as of January 2023). Moreover, many households that are eligible under the gross income test may not be eligible under the net income test and, in states not waiving the asset test, many households are ineligible even if they meet the gross and net income tests. County estimates indicate that 12.5 million or 37% (1 in 3) of individuals experiencing food insecurity may not be eligible for SNAP, after accounting for state-specific gross income limits. In some counties, everyone who is estimated to be food insecure likely qualifies for SNAP; however, the share of people experiencing food insecurity who are likely ineligible for the program is estimated to be as high as 96% in Loving County, Texas. The fact that not everyone who qualifies for SNAP is enrolled and receiving benefits further underscores the importance of charitable food assistance and the need to not only protect and strengthen federal nutrition programs, but also increase enrollment.
People facing hunger report needing more than $20 more per week to meet their food needs
A person who is food insecure reports needing, on average, an additional $20.91 per week or $53 per month to buy just enough food to meet their needs. This represents an increase of nearly 16% from 2020 after adjusting for inflation ($17.25 in 2020 is equivalent to $18.06 in 2021 dollars) and the first time the weekly shortfall has surpassed $20. The total annual food budget shortfall across all individuals estimated to be food insecure stands at $21.5 billion, up from $20.0 billion in 2020 ($21.0 billion in 2021 dollars). The national annual shortfall is still well below its peak of more than $24 billion in 2013 and 2014 ($28 billion in 2021 dollars) despite the recent increase in the weekly per capita amount due to the steady decline in the number of individuals experiencing food insecurity (from 49.1 million in 2013 to 33.8 million in 2021).
8 out of 10 high food insecurity counties are in the South
The South contains 45% of all U.S. counties but was home to an estimated 83% of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity (267 of the 321 counties in the top 10% of all 3,143 counties). One in 5 (19%) counties in the South had high food insecurity (with rates of 16.1% or greater), compared to 1 in 25 (4%) in the West and 1 in 30 (3%) in the Midwest. Bronx County, New York is the sole county in Northeast (1 in 217 or 0.5%) that appears in the top 10%. These regional disparities at the local level are consistent with national data from the USDA, which also show that individual food insecurity rates are higher in the South (11.4% as compared to 10.3% in the West, 10.1% in the Midwest, and 8.6% in the Northeast).
9 out of 10 high food insecurity counties are rural
Rural counties (those outside of major metropolitan areas) make up 63% of all U.S counties but represent 89% of counties with food-insecurity rates in the top 10% (285 out of 321). In other words, counties with the highest rates of food insecurity are disproportionately rural. This also reflects the sharp disparity in food insecurity rates across the U.S. While overall rates of food insecurity are similar across metro (urban) and non-metro (rural) areas, as shown here, there are pockets of very high rates in rural areas.
The national average cost per meal was $3.59
Individuals who are food secure reported spending an average of $3.59 per meal, up from $3.25 in 2020 ($3.40 in 2021 dollars) and the highest reported amount since 2005 ($3.41 in 2021 dollars). At $3.59 per meal, a person who is food secure spends an average of $327.59 on food per month ($353.48 in February 2023 dollars). For context, this reported amount is 1.6 times as much as the average individual cost of the Thrifty Food Plan ($203.11 as of December 2021), which represents a nutritious, practical, cost-effective diet and what the USDA uses to calculate the maximum SNAP benefit allotments. Prior to the update of the TFP in 2021, people who were food secure reported spending nearly 1.9 times as much as the TFP ($296.56 versus $158.57 as of December 2020).
County meal costs range from $2.73 to $7.89
County meal costs range from 76% of the national average ($3.59) in Dimmit County and Maverick County ($2.73) along the southwest border of Texas to close to twice the national average in places like New York County, New York ($5.93), after accounting for local sales taxes and using county food price data from NielsenIQ. Although the greatest number of people live in urban areas, not all urban areas have high food prices, and not every rural community is affordable. For example, urban Bexar County in Texas where San Antonio is located has a relatively low estimated meal cost of $3.21 while rural Leelanau County in northwest Michigan is home to the highest meal cost in the country ($7.89). For a household struggling to afford housing, utilities, transportation and other necessities, the additional burden of high food prices can have a significant impact on a household’s budget.
How We Got the Map Data
Map the Meal Gap Data
From 2013, Feeding America has released an annual Map the Meal Gap report that featured data on both child and overall food insecurity.
2021 No MMG Report
- 2018 Report (2016 data)
- 2017 Report (2015 data)
- 2016 Report (2014 data)
- 2015 Report (2013 data)
- 2014 Report (2012 data)
- 2013 Report (2011 data)
In 2011 and 2012, Feeding America released separate Map the Meal Gap reports for overall and child food-insecurity.
- of counties and congressional districts are home to people facing hunger
- The national average cost per meal
- People facing hunger report needing more than $20 more per week to meet their food needs