U.S. hunger rate is lowest since start of pandemic

After cresting at 13.7 percent at the end of 2020, the U.S. hunger rate is now the lowest, 7.8 percent, since the pandemic began in early 2020. Analysts say the expanded child tax credit, coronavirus relief programs and rebound from recession all helped.

Among families with children, the hunger rate fell by one-third since mid-July, said analyst Claire Zippel of the think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on Monday. The change affected 3.3 million families and can be attributed to the child tax credit, she said in a Center on Budget report.

“The remarkable improvement in food hardship follows issuance of the first monthly Child Tax Credit payment on July 15, which provided up to $300 per child under age 6 and $250 for each child ages 6 to 17, as well as continuing economic growth and improvements in food assistance,” wrote Zippel. She based her figures on data from the Census Bureau’s “Pulse” surveys.

“The number of Black, Latino and white adults with children in households where someone didn’t get enough food has each fallen between one-fourth and one-third since early July,” said Zippel.

In the past, the benefit of the tax credit for 27 million children was muted because their family income was small. The temporary expansion enacted in March made children in the lowest-income families eligible for the full credit and increased the size of the credit. “A sizable income boost to families who need it the most,” said Zippel.

Economist Diane Schanzenbach of Northwestern University said on social media that “hunger overall and (among) those with children now at their lowest rates during the pandemic.” Census data indicate an U.S. hunger rate of 7.8 percent; among households with children, it was 9.5 percent, she said. The hunger rate is based on the number of respondents who said they sometime or often did not get enough to eat in the previous seven days.

Two weeks ago, almost all of the decline in the U.S. hunger occurred among families with children, said Schanzenbach, “suggesting the child tax credit made a big dent in hunger.” Roughly half of the households receiving the tax credit said they used it to buy food. The latest Census data, for mid August, show the drop in the hunger rate was strongest among families with children, she said.

The broader measure of food insecurity also is falling and now is 10 percentage points lower than the peak in December 2020. Schanzenbach calculated the food insecurity rate at 15.9 percent.

The USDA says food insecure households “are uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, at some time during the year, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.

In 2019, 10.5 percent of U.S. households were food insecure, returning to levels seen before the Great Recession for the first time. The USDA was scheduled to report on food insecurity during 2020 on Sept. 8.