Hunger Didn’t Rise During Pandemic Thanks to Government Programs, Study Says

Two men in grocery aisle, shopping

The expansion of several government programs last year likely prevented hunger from rising despite the sudden economic downturn caused by the pandemic, a study showed.

The percentage of U.S. households that reported food insecurity was virtually unchanged in 2020 compared to the year prior despite the recession, according to a report from the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service released Wednesday. More than 20.5 million Americans lost their jobs in April 2020 as state and local officials implemented strict restrictions on business activity to curb the spread of coronavirus, Labor Department data showed.

“This is huge news — it shows you how much of a buffer we had from an expanded safety net,” Urban Institute researcher Elaine Waxman told The New York Times. “There was no scenario in March of 2020 where I thought food insecurity would stay flat for the year. The fact that it did is extraordinary.”

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Commentary: Combating Global Food Insecurity 

As COVID-19, violent conflicts, and natural disasters persist around the world, an increasing number of people face an additional crisis: food insecurity.  Although food insecurity existed in many low- and middle-income countries prior to 2020, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated this global challenge.

Today, according to the United Nations World Food Program Live Hunger Map, an estimated 870 million people live on insufficient food consumption.  This figure has increased since 2019, when an estimated 821 million people did not get enough food to eat. 

Within the 79 countries in which the World Food Program operates, the number of people suffering from acute malnutrition or worse has doubled to 270 million people since 2019.

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Food Insecurity Doubles in U.S. During Coronavirus Shutdowns

As 2020 winds down, roughly 23 percent of households in the U.S. are struggling with food insecurity, a number that has doubled since last year.

Experts project over 50 million Americans will be food insecure in 2020, including roughly 17 million children, Craig Gundersen, a Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics professor at the University of Illinois, says.

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