Brief Food Insecurity Edged Back up after COVID-19 Relief Expired
Elaine Waxman, Poonam Gupta, Dulce Gonzalez
Display Date
Download Report
(182.49 KB)

Although food insecurity improved early in the pandemic between late March/early April and mid-to-late May, after the release of stimulus checks and supplements to unemployment benefits, food hardship levels edged back up the month after COVID-19 relief expired. In this brief, we use data from the most recent wave of the Urban Institute’s Coronavirus Tracking Survey, fielded September 11–28, 2020, to compare food insecurity in September with levels earlier the pandemic after major relief legislation was passed, and to consider trends in food insecurity among adults in the US during the pandemic, how September food insecurity levels vary across demographic groups, and the use of charitable food assistance. We find the following:

  • Though household food insecurity decreased between March/April (22 percent) and May (17.9 percent) 2020, the share of adults reporting food insecurity in the past month edged back up from May to September (from 17.9 percent to 19.6 percent), after major relief programs for households expired. Emergency SNAP allotments enacted last spring increased monthly benefits for many, but not all, households and likely buffered rising food insecurity over the last several months.
  • In particular, food insecurity rates have increased among those who reported their families experienced a job loss during the pandemic. Among those who said they or a spouse/partner lost a job, the food insecurity rate is nearly four in ten (37.1 percent), up from 33.6 percent in May and roughly the same level as in March/April (37.3 percent), the period just after the initial wave of job losses.
  • Significant racial/ethnic disparities in food insecurity remain. In September, Hispanic/Latinx adults (30.5 percent) and Black adults (28.2 percent) reported food insecurity at rates roughly double that of white adults (14.7 percent); these gaps have been consistent across the data collection periods.
  • In September, adults living with at least one noncitizen family member were significantly more likely to be food insecure (26.6 percent) than those in families where all members are citizens (18.8 percent), a trend consistent throughout the pandemic.
  • Parents with children under age 19 had similar rates of food insecurity in May and September. Parents with children continued to report higher rates of food insecurity than those without children, although adults not living with children experienced a statistically significant increase in food insecurity between May and September.
  • Many adults and their families continue to turn to charitable food assistance, such as food pantries and free meal programs, as a coping strategy. More than one in five adults with low incomes (20.8 percent) and nearly one in for adults (23.3 percent) who report they or a spouse lost a job or were laid off during the pandemic sought food assistance from charitable sources in the prior 30 days.


Additional analyses from the September wave of the Coronavirus Tracking Survey

Two forthcoming briefs will use the September Coronavirus Tracking Survey data to examine food insecurity and use of federal child nutrition programs among families with school-age children and the experiences with food insecurity and material hardship among parents with children under the age of 6. The two figures presented here provide a quick snapshot of food insecurity among these two populations.

Research Areas Social safety net
Tags Hunger and food assistance School breakfast and lunch From Safety Net to Solid Ground Immigrant communities and COVID-19
Policy Centers Health Policy Center Income and Benefits Policy Center