With 38 Million Facing Food Insecurity, Hunger in US Soared by Nearly 9% in 2020

By Kenny Stancil, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

More than 38.2 million Americans struggled with food insecurity at some point last year, a roughly 9% surge in hunger compared with the 2019 level of 35.2 million, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA’s new report (pdf)—the federal government’s first comprehensive attempt to document how the Covid-19 pandemic and corresponding spike in unemployment exacerbated food insecurity—found that the number of children in the U.S. suffering from hunger increased from 10.7 million in 2019 to 11.7 million last year, also an uptick of approximately 9%.

Another USDA report (pdf) released last month showed that federal spending on domestic food and nutrition assistance programs in Fiscal Year 2020 reached a historic high of $122.1 billion, which was 32% greater than the previous year.

In addition, roughly 60 million people—close to one in five U.S. residents—received charitable food assistance last year, up 50% from 2019, according to Emily Engelhard, managing director of research at Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger relief organization. CNN reported Wednesday that the group’s network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries distributed over six billion meals in 2020, an increase of 44% from the year before.

Meanwhile, biweekly data from the Household Pulse Survey—a new Census Bureau methodology unveiled soon after the interlinked public health and economic crises began 18 months ago—have revealed that food insecurity declined at various points last year when federal lawmakers provided households with additional income support.

Progressive advocates on Wednesday emphasized that hunger, which already affected millions of people in the world’s richest nation well before 2020, would have grown even more severe in the U.S. last year had Congress not allocated billions of dollars to fund anti-poverty measures in response to the coronavirus crisis. For instance, following the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, which in contrast to the Covid-19 pandemic did not provoke an enlargement of the social welfare state, the number of Americans facing food insecurity soared by almost 13 million, hitting a peak of 50.2 million.

“The new federal data tells us two things,” Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, said in a statement. “First, while hunger was already a massive, systemic problem in all 50 states before Covid-19 hit the U.S., domestic hunger surged during the pandemic.”

“Second, while tens of million of Americans suffered mightily from food hardship in 2020—and are still suffering mightily—the nation avoided mass starvation mostly because the federal government stepped in to dramatically increase food and cash aid,” Berg continued. “This safety net was a giant food life preserver.”

Stressing that “the pandemic is far from over,” Berg added that “we need that aid to continue, as a down payment on the even bigger investments needed to create jobs, raise wages, and ensure an adequate safety net so we can finally end hunger in America once and for all.”

While the Biden administration received praise from progressives last month for approving the largest permanent expansion of food benefits in the history of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, anti-hunger advocates and Democratic lawmakers are demanding “transformational change.”

In a letter (pdf) sent to President Joe Biden last week, the Democratic heads of 25 House committees called on the White House “to convene a national conference on food, nutrition, hunger, and health that draws together all the arms of government, state and local leaders, tribal leaders, nonprofit and for-profit businesses, advocates, and those with lived experiences to design a roadmap to end hunger in America by 2030.”

“The first and only conference on food insecurity took place 52 years ago,” the lawmakers wrote. “Through that effort, Congress built the hunger safety net we know today. We stand ready to work alongside you to chart the final frontier to end hunger and to create a future where the promise of America is in reach for every person in America.”

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  1. timbers

    The buzz word in DC now seems to be “transitory.”

    Inflation is transitory. Chip, car shortages are transitory. Ditto every good you can think of from refrigerators to clothes washers to phones that need chips. Supply chains aren’t broken or built on a disproven ideology (and huge consumption of global warming fossil fuels) called noeliberalism / “free” trade – they’re just backed up, have bottlenecks – It’s just transitory. Unemployment is transitory. Poverty and hunger must be, too.

    How’d that saying go?

    “In the long run, we’re all transitory”

    1. Kevin

      A little empathy towards those that are forced to go hungry would go a long way toward fixing the problem. Good luck finding any.

    2. lance ringquist

      all roads lead to nafta billy clintons disastrous policies, and the author seems to have no clue why food prices have soared.

      when nafta billy deregulated commodities, i said there goes stable food prices. coupled with nafta billys worse policy blunder in american history, free trade, and the author wonders why so many have to go to government for help or starve.

      we can never recover till nafta billy clintons disastrous policies have been reversed.


      Minneapolis – Excessive speculation in agriculture commodity markets has played a major role in the rapid rise and fall in global food prices, contributing to a massive increase in undernourished people and commodity market instability, according to a new report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

      “As President Bush and the G-20 meet this weekend, it is important to recognize that many of the deregulatory measures that brought on the Wall Street collapse also contributed to the food security and agricultural market crises,” said IATP’s Steve Suppan, a contributor to the report. “Only prudential regulation and tough enforcement will repair the damage caused by crony capitalism to these markets and the people markets are supposed to serve.”

      The IATP report, “Commodities Market Speculation: the Risk to Food Security and Agriculture” (available at http://www.iatp.org), concludes that U.S. government deregulatory steps opened the door for large financial services speculators to make huge “bets” that destabilized the structure of agriculture commodity markets. According to the United Nations, global food prices rose an estimated 85 percent between April 2007 and April 2008. Prices rose for wheat (60 percent), corn (30 percent) and soybeans (40 percent) beyond what could be explained by supply, demand and other fundamental factors, according to the report.

      Commercial speculation in agriculture has traditionally been used by traders and processors to protect against short-term price volatility, acting as a sort of price insurance while helping to set a benchmark price in the cash market. But the elimination of speculative position limits for financial speculators and the rise of commodity index funds undermined traditional price risk management. These funds create a constant upward pressure on commodity prices, alleviated abruptly only when fund contracts are “rolled over” to take profits.

      “The underlying fundamental for these funds is not the supply and demand of physical commodities, but the profit target,” said Suppan. “As long as Wall Street players could hide their government-permitted debt loads, they were free to induce price volatility in excess of what could be explained by fundamental factors, and then profit by betting on the induced price movements.”

      As of July 2008, $317 billion had been invested in commodities index funds, led by major traders Goldman Sachs and American Insurance Group. Commodity index funds bundle futures contracts of up to 24 agricultural and non-agricultural commodities, including oil, energy, and base and precious metals. The bundling of agricultural commodities with precious and base metal commodities means that the price movements (and the larger trading weight of the metals in the fund) can trigger the sale of a fund contract, regardless of the supply and demand situation in an agricultural commodity, according to the report.

      At the global level, there is no multilateral agreement to regulate commodities exchange markets. And there is no multilateral framework to respond to global speculation in food prices. Thus far, the UN’s Global Task Force on the Food Crisis has yet to analyze the role of speculation in fomenting the crisis.

      The report makes a series of recommendations including: creating an independent global commodities exchange regulatory agency, establishing commodity-specific speculative position limits and requiring comprehensive and transparent reporting for all types of futures and options trades executed in the United States. On September 18, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Commodity Markets Transparency and Accountability Act of 2008, which would take some of these initial steps. The bill will likely be reintroduced in 2009.

      “The U.S. House of Representatives has begun to defend U.S. agricultural markets from predatory deregulation and excessive speculation,” said Suppan. “The Obama administration and the U.S. Senate should not only support and improve the House bill, but help jumpstart multilateral negotiations so that excessive speculation in non-U.S. markets cannot further exacerbate global food insecurity.

      The full report can be read at: http://www.iatp.org

      The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems
      Read the Full Article
      Economics and Trade,
      Globalization and Trade Reform

  2. chuck roast

    Yeh, when I was a kid my mom used to say, “Chuckie, eat your liver. There are millions of people in China who are food insecure.” Saying ‘food insecure’ makes me feel ever so smart. It also doesn’t have quite the low-class, desperate taint of ‘hunger.’ Maybe you get published if write ‘food insecure’, and you are consigned to the dust bin when you write ‘hunger.’ Right up there with the use of ‘public health’ to describe health care in the US. ‘Medical cartel’ would be a more apt description, but that won’t win anyone a publishing spot in any of the popular organs. Belichick would never say, “It ain’t what it is.”

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      ”Maybe you get published if write ‘food insecure’, and you are consigned to the dust bin when you write ‘hunger

      More to the point: maybe you are immediately defined as a ‘liberal’ liar by the Carlsons and Ingrahams of our media because you made the unpardonable error of describing people who aren’t visibly emaciated as suffering from hunger. Who aren’t skimping on their meals every single day for weeks on end….. and therefore can’t be “truly hungry” at any point during that time. In the absence of visible evidence of kwashiorkor even many commenters here make derisive remarks about the actual impact of constant fear of a lack of food. And the attitudinal norm in most comments sections, most letters to the editor, and much casual conversation among the middle class and higher is far worse in my experience.

      The cowardly use of dry euphemisms like “food insecure” is only partially driven by PMC pedantry. It’s also a self-protective device. Used by people who don’t have the guts or the rhetorical skill to fight back effectively in the face of arch, sneering “conservative” derision.

  3. Felix_47

    The number in the US matches Afghanistan’s population….38 million. And what are we going to do this winter as they starve? Get Saudi Arabia to support them?

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