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Just the facts

Hunger, Poverty and COVID-19 in the U.S. and Globally

Hunger in the U.S. and around the world is caused by various complex social and economic factors and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic add yet another layer of depth to the issue. We realize that one web page can hardly do justice to all the facts and thoughts on this matter. Our main goal with this page is to provide a brief overview of up-to-date hunger facts in an attempt to educate the public about the root causes of hunger and poverty, its realities across the globe and the impact of COVID-19.

Looking at the communities that have been hit hardest by both the coronavirus and hunger, it’s important to recognize that food insecurity does not affect everyone the same way. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, women and children have faced the consequences of the pandemic and of food insecurity at higher rates than other communities.

Given our technological capacity, we know that we can produce enough food to feed every person on earth1. So why is there still hunger and what can we do about it? The root causes of hunger are due to the systems, policies and institutions that benefit multinational corporations and wealthy nations, while leaving millions of people without access to food, land, water and sustainable livelihoods. Our global food system is structured to value profits over people and the planet.

In other words, hunger is caused by poverty and injustice. Learn more about how WhyHunger and our allies across the globe are working to transform these systems, end hunger and ensure everyone’s right to nutritious food.

hunger in the us

WORLD HUNGER

  • Pre-pandemic, an estimated 2 billion people around the world were struggling to put food on their tables. After a peak of 760 million additional people in 2020, projections for 2030 see a decrease in global hunger rates. However, approximately 30 million more than what was originally expected still remain in hunger due to the effects of the pandemic. Overall, the world is not on track for meeting any of the nutrition indicators for the 2030 SDGs.2
  • COVID-19 has pushed 1 billion children around the world out of school, depriving them of access to nutritious food3.
  • 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 simultaneously4.

HUNGER IN AMERICA

  • In 2020, more than 38 million Americans, including 11.7 million children, struggled with food insecurity.5
    • This data, released by the USDA in Sept 2021 represents just a modest increase from pre-pandemic numbers (35 million Americans, 10.7 million children in 2019). 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, 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.
  • Pre-pandemic, more than 10 million American children struggled with hunger. Due to the pandemic, more than 17 million children, or nearly 1 in 4, were projected to face hunger in 20206.
  • 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:
    • Black (21.7 percent) and Latinx (17.2 percent) households are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity, with food insecurity rates in 2020 triple and double the rate of White households (7.1 percent), respectively.6
    • 14.4% of all households with children experience hunger. That jumps to 40% of single-parent households with children headed by women that did not know where their next meal was coming from.7
  • 1 in 3 people who are food insecure are unlikely to qualify for most federal nutrition programs8.
  • 40% of those visiting emergency food suppliers during COVID-19 had never sought food assistance before9.
  • 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 level10.
  • From March 2020 to April 2020 alone, the amount of people using SNAP benefits grew by 15.8%. Nearly 43 million people were forced to rely on SNAP in April 202011. This number has not changed as of May 2021; additionally, food prices rose about 3.4% in July 2021 compared to the previous year.12
  • Indigenous communities continue experiencing food insecurity and other issues at heightened levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 60% of counties with majority Native populations were very food insecure in 2020, and this year, the Navajo Nation suffered a 3.4% COVID-19 infection rate. That’s twice that of New York City13.

POVERTY

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.
  • 2021 federal guidelines set the poverty rate at $26,500 for a family of four15
  • 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.16

GLOBALLY:

  • The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic could push half a billion more people into poverty 17.
  • Currently, approximately 10% of workers around the world live on less than $1.90/day.18
  • 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 threats19.
  • 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.19

For more information on WhyHunger's vision for a world free from hunger, visit Our Work.

RESOURCES