Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
A new report shows that food insecurity is a problem in every single county in the United States. Some are much worse off than others.
Hunger isn’t just a problem for the poorest of the poor. It cuts across age, race, gender, and affects Americans in cities, suburbs, and rural areas. In fact, every single county in the U.S. experiences food insecurity (defined here as “limited or uncertain” access to food), according to the latest “Map the Meal Gap” report by Feeding America, a network of 200 U.S. food banks.
The risk of hunger, while omnipresent, varies dramatically based on where you live. In Jefferson County, Mississippi, for example, 38 percent of the population experienced food insecurity in 2014. In Loudon County, Virginia, that share is only 4 percent. In general, though, rural areas are worst affected—two-thirds of the counties in the top 10 most at risk for hunger were rural.
“This new research documents the pervasiveness of hunger in every community in our nation,” Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America, said in a statement. “While the economy has improved and unemployment rates have declined, many people are still struggling to access adequate amounts of nutritious food for their families.”
Feeding America’s interactive map helps illustrate these findings. It also shows how the food insecurity rate relates to economic indicators such as poverty and unemployment, and regional fluctuations in the average cost of a meal (which can be anything between $2-$5.6 per meal). From the report’s summary:
As expected, all else equal, higher unemployment and poverty rates are associated with higher rates of food insecurity. A one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate leads to a 0.53 percentage point increase in the overall food-insecurity rate, while a one percentage point increase in poverty leads to a 0.17 increase in food insecurity.
Here is a snapshot of Mississippi, for example:
If a user clicks on the state, the map pulls up details for each county. Here’s the profile for Jefferson County:
And here’s Crook County, Oregon, which has the most expensive meals in the country:
One of the most pertinent findings of the report is that food insecurity rates for children are higher than the overall food insecurity rate nationwide. In some counties, almost 42 percent of children struggle with hunger. It’s a real shame, then, that lawmakers in Congress are pushing to cut free and reduced-price lunch programs in schools—a move that could leave millions of low-income kids in America even worse off.