Director of Research and Interim Program Area Lead, Food Assistance
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:
|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|
|District of Columbia||15%||10%||49%|
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