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As Thanksgiving Approaches, Fewer Than Half of Households With Kids Very Confident About Affording Needed Food

November 18, 2020 at 3:00 PM

As Thanksgiving approaches amidst a pandemic-driven economic crisis, just 44 percent of households with children are “very confident” that they can afford needed food over the next four weeks, according to new Census survey data — and about 10 percent, or 3.5 million households, are “not at all confident.” That uncertainty reflects widespread food hardship across the country, with 5.6 million households with children struggling to put enough food on the table in the past seven days. Other data show that hardship has significantly worsened since the pandemic started and remains high, underscoring the need for policymakers to agree on a robust, bipartisan economic relief package.

Households with children were less likely than those without children to report that they were “very confident” about affording needed food for the next four weeks, according to the new Census data, from the Household Pulse Survey for October 14-26. Millions of children — we estimate between 7 and 11 million — live in a household where children didn’t eat enough in the past seven days because the household couldn’t afford it.

Widespread food hardship that continues into the holiday season appears likely unless policymakers immediately provide strong economic relief. Delay can be costly, as food insecurity among children can have long-lasting negative consequences. For infants and young children, the lack of access to good nutrition can lead directly to poorer lifelong outcomes. School-aged children who don’t get enough to eat may have more difficulty learning in school, which can translate to lower high school completion rates and lower earnings potential. While the risk is greatest for children who chronically lack sufficient food, the shock of becoming food insecure may itself affect children’s behavior, and living in a household that’s even temporarily food insecure is linked with negative development among toddlers.

For all of these reasons, boosting SNAP benefits, which would reduce food hardship and speed the economic recovery, is a no-brainer to include in a comprehensive economic relief package.

Food isn’t households’ only concern. More than 4 in 10 children live in households that are struggling to cover such basic costs as food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, or student loans. Such “economic hardship can increase psychological distress in parents” in ways that “may harm children’s cognitive and socioemotional development,” a 2019 National Academy of Sciences report noted. Children in families that struggle in these ways suffer extreme stress and have poorer health and educational outcomes.

Other Household Pulse data that were collected October 28-November 9 and released today also provide important insights, as we’ve detailed in our updated fact sheet on hardship:

  • Some 10 to 14 percent of adults with children reported that their kids didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford it. (The 10-14 percent range reflects the different ways to measure food hardship in the survey.)
  • Nearly 1 in 5 adult renters — 13.4 million, after adjusting for underreporting in the survey — reported that they lived in a household that wasn’t caught up on rent.
  • Renters of color were likelier to report difficulty affording rent, with Black renters facing the greatest hardship: 33 percent of Black renters, 17 percent of Latino renters, and 16 percent of Asian renters said they were behind on rent, compared to 14 percent of white renters. The rate was 24 percent for American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial adult renters taken together.
  • More than 4 in 10 children living in rental housing live in a household that either isn’t getting enough to eat or is behind on rent.
TABLE 1
Shares of Households Report Difficulty Getting Enough Food and Being Able to Afford Needed Food for Next Four Weeks

Data collected August 19 through October 26.

How to read this table: In the United States, 12 percent of households with children reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days. Nine percent of households with children reported that they are “not at all confident” that they will be able to afford the kinds of food they need for the next four weeks. Fifty-six percent of households with children reported that they are less than “very confident” — that is, they are only “moderately,” “somewhat,” or “not at all” confident — that they will be able to be able to afford the kinds of food they need for the next four weeks. Percentages exclude households who did not respond to the question.

State Share of Households With Children That Sometimes or Often Didn’t Have Enough to Eat Share of Households With Children That Are “Not At All Confident” They Will Be Able to Afford Needed Foods for Next Four Weeks Share of Households With Children That Are Not “Very Confident” They Will Be Able to Afford Needed Foods for Next Four Weeks
United States 12% 9% 56%
Alabama 15% 11% 58%
Alaska 11% 9% 52%
Arizona 11% 8% 59%
Arkansas 14% 11% 59%
California 12% 10% 58%
Colorado 10% 6% 48%
Connecticut 12% 10% 58%
Delaware 13% 8% 55%
District of Columbia 15% 10% 49%
Florida 15% 12% 62%
Georgia 13% 11% 59%
Hawai’i 9% 8% 65%
Idaho 9% 6% 48%
Illinois 13% 10% 56%
Indiana 13% 9% 55%
Iowa 10% 6% 50%
Kansas 12% 8% 53%
Kentucky 13% 10% 57%
Louisiana 17% 13% 67%
Maine 9% 8% 50%
Maryland 13% 11% 55%
Massachusetts 9% 7% 51%
Michigan 12% 8% 55%
Minnesota 7% 5% 43%
Mississippi 17% 13% 67%
Missouri 13% 10% 55%
Montana 9% 8% 52%
Nebraska 10% 9% 52%
Nevada 13% 13% 64%
New Hampshire 8% 6% 47%
New Jersey 9% 9% 55%
New Mexico 14% 9% 63%
New York 13% 10% 59%
North Carolina 14% 10% 55%
North Dakota 8% 6% 50%
Ohio 13% 8% 56%
Oklahoma 12% 9% 58%
Oregon 11% 7% 49%
Pennsylvania 11% 8% 52%
Rhode Island 16% 10% 55%
South Carolina 10% 10% 59%
South Dakota 10% 7% 48%
Tennessee 12% 9% 58%
Texas 14% 11% 62%
Utah 7% 5% 45%
Vermont 9% 6% 46%
Virginia 11% 8% 53%
Washington 9% 6% 46%
West Virginia 12% 9% 57%
Wisconsin 11% 8% 50%
Wyoming 10% 7% 48%

Note: Figures are a five-week average.

Source: CBPP calculations from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey Public Use files, https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/household-pulse-survey/datasets.html


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