Food insecurity in the U.S. rose significantly last year, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Experts attribute the sharp rise in food insecurity to the winding down of pandemic-era assistance and high inflation in 2022.
USDA reports that 12.8% of American households (17 million households) struggled to get enough food in 2022—up from 10.2% (13.5 million households) in 2021.
A million more households with children (3.3 million households) experienced food insecurity last year than in 2021. The report found that more than 13 million children in the U.S. (18.5% of the child population) lived in food insecure households in 2022.
The number of American families experiencing more severe food insecurity—meaning they had to ration food and some family members went hungry because they could not afford enough food—also rose significantly from 3.8% (5.1 million households) in 2021 to 5.1% (6.8 million households) last year.
Food insecurity increased for nearly all types of households, USDA economist Matthew Rabbitt told CNN. Rural households saw food insecurity rise 36% and the report found a 28% increase in households with elderly members.
USDA’s report is consistent with accounts from food banks and the U.S. Census Bureau, which show hunger increasing nationwide—a troubling reversal of the pre-pandemic trend of improving food security, especially among children.
Starting in 2011, the U.S. saw a decade of steady progress on food security.
That trend continued until last year, thanks to pandemic-era programs including the expanded Child Tax Credit, emergency allotments and increased benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and universal free school lunches for all students.
The enhanced child tax credit was associated with a 26% reduction in household food insufficiency, according to recent research.
But as those programs end, food insecurity is continuing to rise dramatically. The most recent Census Bureau survey data shows that, for the period from September 20 to October 2, more than 27.6 million people reported experiencing food insecurity, up 9.5% since the start of 2023, NBC News reports.
The end of pandemic-era programs is also driving sharp increases in poverty in the U.S. The Census Bureau reported last month that 2022 saw the largest single-year increase on record, with the poverty rate jumping to 12.4% from 7.8% in 2021. The child poverty rate more than doubled, from 5.2% in 2021 to 12.4% of children living in poverty in 2022, due in large part to the failure to renew the expanded child tax credit.
“The experience of the pandemic showed us that when government invests in meaningful support for families, we can make a positive impact on food security, even during challenging economic times,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “No child should go hungry in America. The report is a stark reminder of the consequences of shrinking our proven safety net.”
Inflation is the other factor driving rising food insecurity across the country. Food prices increased by almost 10% last year, according to the USDA.