What is food insecurity and what does it look like in America?
Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.
Food insecure households are not necessarily food insecure all the time. Food insecurity may reflect a household’s need to make trade-offs between important basic needs, such as housing or medical bills, and purchasing nutritionally adequate foods.
Select your state and county from our interactive map above and start learning more about your neighbors struggling with hunger and the food banks that serve them.
Read more about the findings of Map the Meal Gap in our Executive Summary, see food insecurity by Congressional District or learn how we got this data.
Feeding America undertook the Map the Meal Gap project, with the generous support of the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and The Nielsen Company, to learn more about food insecurity at the local community level.
Program eligibility is determined by income
The income bands shown reflect percentages of the federally established poverty line*, which varies based on household size. These percentages are used to set eligibility thresholds for nutrition programs.
How is food insecurity related to poverty?
Although related, food insecurity and poverty are not the same. We know that 26% of food insecure households live above 185% of the poverty line (Coleman-Jensen et al 2014). Note below, however, that 185% of the poverty level is only $44,863 for a family of four. For families with medical expenses or who are located in areas with a high cost-of-living, it’s easy to see how quickly resources can get drained. We know also from Hunger In America 2014 that 16% of Feeding America network clients were found to be food secure. This may be because they are able to access emergency food resources or participate in federal nutrition programs at times when their own resources are scarce.
What does it mean to live in poverty?
Poverty rates are provided as supplemental information to the food insecurity rates. Poverty rates are determined by the number of members in a household and their annual income.
These rates do not vary from state to state (except in AK and HI), despite significant differences in cost-of-living.
SOURCE: Federal Register, Vol. 80, No. 14, January 22, 2015, pp. 3236-3237.
*Due to rounding, totals range from 99-101%
What is the safety net for people who are food insecure?
Availability of government support for households varies based (in part) on the household income as it relates to the poverty level. The thresholds shown below apply to the national average; it is important to know that individual states can and have increased their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the food stamps program) thresholds to up to 200% of the poverty level. This increases the number of people who are eligible for SNAP, the cornerstone of the federal nutrition safety net.
Food Insecure Individuals
How do you calculate the dollars needed and the meal costs?
Using actual food sales data, The Nielsen Company created a county-level multiplier to reflect the local cost of food. To develop the average cost of a meal, we use this multiplier to weight the national average amount spent on a meal by the food secure - $2.79.
We also use the county-level multiplier to weight the national average of additional money a food insecure person reports needing per week in order to meet his/her food needs - $16.28. To calculate the total additional money required to meet food needs in 2013, we multiply the weekly amount by the number of food insecure people in the selected geography, then by 52 weeks, and finally by 60% (7/12) – the average portion of the year in which a food insecure person experiences food insecurity.