Findings from the Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey
With significant food price inflation in 2022 and the expiration of COVID-19 pandemic aid, food hardship has increased for many households across the country. In this brief, we examine trends in food insecurity and receipt of charitable food using data from the Urban Institute’s Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey (WBNS), a nationally representative survey of more than 7,500 adults ages 18 to 64. We estimate the shares of adults reporting household food insecurity and charitable food receipt in 2022 and compare those shares with estimates from 2019, 2020, and 2021. In light of the rapid rise in food price inflation, we also assess households’ use of financial coping methods to deal with rising grocery costs in 2022.
We find the following:
- Between December 2021 and December 2022, the share of adults reporting food insecurity in the last year increased from 20 percent to 24.6 percent. The rate of food insecurity in 2022 was not statistically different from the rate in the year just before the pandemic (23.4 percent in 2019).
- Hispanic/Latinx and Black adults were consistently at greater risk of food insecurity than white adults between 2019 and 2022, reflecting longstanding disparities in opportunities and access to resources.
- Nearly one in six adults (16.0 percent) reported their households received charitable food (free groceries or meals) in 2022, down from 17.4 percent in 2021, which translates to about 2.8 million fewer adults, and down from the height of usage in 2020 (19.7 percent), but well above the prepandemic rate in 2019 (12.7 percent or roughly 6.8 million more adults).
- In December 2022, 63.2 percent of adults reported their household grocery costs increased a lot in the last year, higher than the shares reporting costs increased a lot for gasoline (55.5 percent), home heating (26.4 percent), rent (26.2 percent), child care (14.3 percent), health insurance (12.5 percent), and mortgage payments (8.1 percent).
- Adults whose grocery costs increased a lot in 2022 relied on charitable food and other coping strategies but still faced high rates of food insecurity.
- Adults whose grocery costs increased a lot were nearly twice as likely as other adults to be food insecure (29.0 percent vs. 16.5 percent).
- Because of recent price increases, 62.0 percent of adults whose grocery costs increased a lot reported either reducing the amount of food they bought or not buying the kinds of foods they wanted, 43.3 percent withdrew money from savings, and 36.3 percent increased credit card debt. About 16.5 percent received charitable food.