New research shows food insecurity has grown across the country in recent months, largely as a result of the ongoing public health crisis. While food insecurity can impact individuals of all ages, recent data suggests U.S. children are going hungry during the coronavirus pandemic. In nearly one in five households with children aged 12 or younger, parents reported that children were experiencing food insecurity, according to a research analysis recently released from the Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project.
"Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity has increased in the United States," Lauren Bauer, an Economic Studies fellow at the Brookings Institution wrote in her analysis. "This is particularly true for households with young children."
Using two national surveys — The COVID Impact Survey and The Hamilton Project/Future of the Middle Class Initiative Survey of Mothers with Young Children — researchers polled households across the United States in April using food security questions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to Bauer, they found that, by the end of April, children in nearly one in five households of mothers with children 12 or younger were experiencing food insecurity.
"Looking over time, particularly to the relatively small increase in child food insecurity during the Great Recession, it is clear that young children are experiencing food insecurity to an extent unprecedented in modern times," Bauer wrote.
In The Hamilton Project/Future of the Middle Class Initiative Survey of Mothers with Young Children, 17.4% of mothers with children 12 and younger reported that, since the global coronavirus pandemic had started in mid-March, the children in their household "were not eating enough because we just couldn't afford enough food." Additionally, 3.4% of those mothers said that since the pandemic started it had "often" been the case that their children did not get enough to eat due to a lack of resources.
In comparison, a similar survey question posed in 2018 found that 3.1% of mothers with children 12 and younger reported their children were not eating enough due to an inability to afford enough food in the past 12 months.
In her analysis, however, Bauer is quick to point out that food insecurity rates in children are not measured with one survey question. Indeed, research conducted by the USDA in 2018 found that 7.4% of mothers with children under the age of 12 had food insecure children. "If the ratio between this single [survey] question and the overall measure of child food insecurity were to continue to hold today, 17.4% children not eating enough would translate into more than a third of children experiencing food insecurity," Bauer said.
Brookings' research analysis shows that food insecurity rates likely rose in April for households with children under the age of 18. In its analysis of the COVID Impact Survey, the Hamilton Project found that almost 35% of households with children reported "the food we bought just didn't last and we didn't have enough money to get more." According to Bauer, that's a 130% increase from 2018, when 14.7% of households with children under 18 responded affirmatively to the same question.
Childhood hunger can have long-term implications, including health effects. According to Feeding America, a nationwide nonprofit food bank, children who don't get enough to eat during their early years are more likely to experience developmental impairments and face a higher risk of developing health conditions like anemia and asthma.
In an effort to combat rising rates of food insecurity among children, Bauer urged Congress to increase food security programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to USA Today, Congress has so far added more than $15 billion to food assistance benefits in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
But because millions of Americans are now living without paychecks as a result of the pandemic, Congressional Democrats have pushed to increase food stamp benefits by 15% until the crisis is over, the New York Times reported. Republicans have, however, so far appeared opposed to such an expansion of benefits.
"Rates of food insecurity overall, among households with children, and among children themselves are higher than they have ever been on record," Bauer wrote in her analysis. "Food insecurity represents an urgent matter for policymakers in the capitol and in state houses across the country... Policymakers must act to protect the health and well-being of the American people, especially children."
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