The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported today that 10.9% of U.S. households were food insecure in 2006. This measure of hardship is essentially unchanged from the previous year.
Food insecurity is determined from a survey battery of 18 questions about food-related hardships. About 50,000 randomly selected households around the country respond to the survey each year. Those households who answer affirmatively to 3 or more of the 18 survey items are classified as "food insecure."
Rates of food insecurity decreased from 11.9% in 1995, when national data collection began, to a low of 10.1% in 1999. Food insecurity worsened in the current decade, reaching 11.9% in 2004. Despite several recent years of economic expansion, rates of food insecurity remain high. The benefits of economic growth have not been reaching those Americans at greatest risk of food insecurity.
USDA reported today that the rate of "very low food security" was 4.0%, which is no better than the rate of 3.9% for the preceding year. USDA formerly described this level of hardship as "food insecurity with hunger," but the terminology was changed last year in response to disagreements over the appropriate official meaning of the term "hunger."
The lack of progress in the new report, authored by Mark Nord, Margaret Andrews, and Steven Carlson, contrasts with the federal government's national objectives for reducing food insecurity (see my illustration below based on USDA data).
In another previous goal-setting effort, the USDA Strategic Plan for 2002-2007 proposed that food insecurity with hunger among low-income Americans (with income below 130% of the poverty line) should be reduced to 7.4% by 2007. The corresponding figure for very low food security among low-income Americans in the most recent USDA data is much worse at 13.1%. It appears unlikely that the goals of USDA's Strategic Plan will be met.