Just the facts
Hunger, Poverty and COVID-19 in the U.S. and Globally
- Pre-pandemic, an estimated 2 billion people around the world were struggling to put food on their tables2.
- 135 million people in 55 countries with pre-existing food insecurity issues are left even more vulnerable to the consequences of COVID-19. This means that they are battling the threats of both hunger and the virus simultaneously3.
- The World Food Programme is calling 2022 the “year of unprecedented hunger.” Nearly 828 million people around the world go to bed hungry every night. The number of people facing acute food insecurity has climbed from 135 million to 345 million since 2019. 50 million people in 45 countries are inching towards famine4.
- Just as the world was beginning to recover from the damaging effects of COVID-19, another crisis was unfolding with lasting implications. The ongoing war in Ukraine, involving two of the biggest producers in agriculture, is disrupting supply chains, affecting the prices of grain, fertilizer and energy. This war threatens to increase the number of malnourished individuals, especially in women and children globally5.
HUNGER IN AMERICA
- Hunger is not a new problem in America. COVID-19, war and climate change have only exacerbated the social injustices that have long existed at the root of hunger, from racism to the lack of a living wage.
- In 2021, 33.8 million Americans, including 9.3 million children, lived in food-insecure households in according to the USDA.6
- WhyHunger and other anti-hunger institutions point to the efforts of community-based organizations, mutual aid and private charities, combined with the massive economic aid packages provided by the government as key to our ability to keep skyrocketing hunger at bay during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a real-world example of how deeply economic justice and hunger are linked, and strengthening WhyHunger’s call for long-term solutions that address the root causes of hunger.
- As these temporary relief packages are ending, experts anticipate food insecurity will rise again.
- A recent report from the Census Pulse Survey in August 2022 showed an upward trend in hunger, with 12.1 million families with kids reporting not having enough to eat, compared to 9.7 million in December 2021.7
- Hunger doesn’t affect everyone equally; the food insecurity rates are higher than the national average (about 10.5%) for some groups - which is why we need to look at the root causes of hunger when working on solutions:
- Latinx (16.2 percent) and Black (19.8 percent) households are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity, with food insecurity rates in 2021 double and nearly triple the rate of White households (7 percent), respectively.7
- A recent study from the American Society of Nutrition estimated that 45.7% of U.S. American Indian and Alaska Native are food insecure.8
- 24.3% of single-parent households headed by women in 2021 did not know where their next meal was coming from.9
- Food insecurity among Black or Latino individuals is higher than white individuals in 99% of U.S. counties
- 1 in 3 people who are food insecure are unlikely to qualify for SNAP, the nation’s largest food assistance program10.
- Rural counties (those outside of major metropolitan areas) have the highest rates of food insecurity (87 percent) out of all counties in the United States10.
- The vast majority of people who grow, pick and process our food live in poverty and cannot afford to buy adequate healthy food. 86% of jobs in the food system offer very low wages at the poverty level and below the poverty level.11.
- Indigenous communities continue experiencing food insecurity and other issues at heightened levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 60% of counties in the United States with majority Native populations were very food insecure in 2020.12
- The charitable food system - Food banks, pantries and soup kitchens, have been pushed to their limits. A study from WhyHunger and Duke University conducted in 2020 found that more than half of emergency food providers were forced to partially suspend programming while demands increased due to COVID-19.13.
Poverty, a root cause of hunger, is also often indicated by marginal income and limited access to healthcare, education, clothing and shelter.
In the U.S.:
- Before the pandemic, 39.4 million people were living in poverty in the U.S. More than 12% of the population14.
- 2022 federal guidelines set the poverty rate at $27,750 for a family of four15
- In 2021, 37.9 million people were living in poverty (11.6 percent) according to the U.S. Census Bureau.16
- 40% of Americans are living just one paycheck away from poverty, making impossible decisions between paying their bills, feeding their families or filling their prescriptions.17
- More than a third of US families that work full-time even before the pandemic, do not earn enough money to cover their most basic needs, including housing, food and child care.18
- The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty 19.
- In September 2022 the World Bank updated the international poverty line from $1.90 to $2.15 per person per day.20
- Due to the effects of the pandemic and war in Ukraine, the World Bank estimates an additional 75 million to 95 million people will be living in extreme poverty in 2022, compared to pre-pandemic projections20
- Over the last 10 years, before the global health crisis was in the picture, the relatively consistent poverty reduction we’ve seen every year since the 1990’s began to slow. COVID-19 is not the only factor sending more and more people below the poverty line – armed conflict and climate change are also major threats21.
- In 2018, the World Bank introduced additional poverty metrics intended to be more reflective of global poverty. But ongoing conflicts and political instability hinder data collection in the world’s poorest nations, and poverty rates are almost nonexistent for many countries past 2014; namely, Sub-Saharan Africa and India.21
For more information on WhyHunger's vision for a world free from hunger, visit Our Work.
- Food and Agriculture Organization
- United States Department of Agriculture
- No Kid Hungry
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- United States Census Bureau
- Economic Policy Institute
- Food Chain Workers Alliance
- Feeding America
- 1 World Hunger Education Service. “2018 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics.” Revised May 25, 2018. https://www.worldhunger.org/world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/#produce1
- 2 Food and Agriculture Organization. “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021.” https://www.fao.org/3/cb4474en/online/cb4474en.html#chapter-2_3
- 3 Global Network Against Food Crises, Food Security Information Network. 2020 Global Report on Food Crises: Joint Analysis for Better Decisions. 2020. Accessed October 22, 2020. https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000114546/download/?_ga=2.90253727.46253289.1603293682-336947070.1603293682
- 4 World Food Programme. “A global food crisis.” https://www.wfp.org/global-hunger-crisis
- 5 Food and Agriculture Organization. “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022.” https://www.fao.org/3/cc0639en/online/cc0639en.html
- 6 USDA Economic Research Service. “Food Security Status of U.S. Households in 2021.” Accessed September 19, 2022. https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details?pubid=104655
- 7 Smith, Courtney. “What To Know About The 2021 USDA Food Security Numbers.” No Kid Hungry. Published September, 2022. https://www.nokidhungry.org/blog/what-know-about-2021-usda-food-security-numbers
- 8 Cassandra J Nikolaus, Selisha Johnson, Tia Benally, Tara Maudrie, Austin Henderson, Katie Nelson, Trevor Lane, Valerie Segrest, Gary L Ferguson, Dedra Buchwald, Valarie Blue Bird Jernigan, Ka`imi Sinclair, Food Insecurity among American Indian and Alaska Native People: A Scoping Review to Inform Future Research and Policy Needs, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 13, Issue 5, September 2022, Pages 1566–1583, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmac008
- 9 USDA Economic Research Service. “Food Insecurity by Household Characteristics.” Accessed September 19, 2022. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx/
- 10 2022. Mapping the Meal Gap 2022: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2020. Feeding America. https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/2022-07/Map%20the%20Meal%20Gap%202022%20Report.pdf
- 11 Food and Nutrition Service, US Department of Agriculture. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Number of Persons Participating. Data as of July 10, 2020. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/29SNAPcurrPP-7a.pdf
- 12 Ane, Katell. “Native-Led Nonprofit Tackles Food Insecurity on Reservations.” Food Tank. Published September, 2020. https://foodtank.com/news/2020/09/native-led-nonprofit-tackles-food-insecurity-on-reservations/
- 13 WhyHunger. “WhyHunger Analysis & Reflection: WhyHunger + Duke University World Food Policy Center “The Impact of COVID-19 on Hunger Relief Organizations” Survey Preliminary Results.” Last updated May 12, 2021. https://whyhunger.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Section-1-Teaser_29Mar2021-AMC.docx-1.pdf
- 14 Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2020. Household Food Security in the United States in 2019, ERR-275, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/99282/err-275.pdf?v=181
- 15 US Department of Health and Human Services. “Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines.” Federal Register, The Daily Journal of the United States Government. Published January 21, 2022. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/01/21/2022-01166/annual-update-of-the-hhs-poverty-guidelines
- 16 United States Census Bureu. Poverty in the United States: 2021. Current Population Reports. Accessed September 22, 2022. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2022/demo/p60-277.pdf
- 17 Prosperity Now. “Vulnerability in the Face of Economic Uncertainty.” January 2019. https://prosperitynow.org/sites/default/files/resources/2019_Scorecard_Key_Findings.pdf.
- 18 Farberov, Snejana and Reilly, Patrick. “More than a third of working families can’t afford basic needs: study.” NYpost. Published September, 2022. https://nypost.com/2022/09/07/third-of-working-families-cant-afford-basic-needs-study/?utm_campaign=iphone_nyp&utm_source=mail_app
- 19 U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. “COVID-19 Brief: Impact on Food Security.” Last updated September 14, 2020. https://www.usglc.org/coronavirus/global-hunger/
- 20 World Bank. “Nowcast of Extreme Poverty, 2015-2022.” Accessed September 22, 2022. https://www.worldbank.org/en/understanding-poverty
- 21 World Bank. 2020. “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020: Reversals of Fortune.” Overview booklet. Washington, DC: World Bank. License: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0 IGO. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/bitstream/handle/10986/34496/211602ov.pdf