Fewer children faced food insecurity last year, but more elderly Americans did
Some 6.2% of households with children, or 2.3 million families, were unable at times to provide adequate, nutritious food for their kids last year, compared with 7.6% in 2020, the report found. Last year’s rate was not significantly different than the 2019 share.
However, the news was not all good.
Elderly Americans living alone experienced an increase in food insecurity. The rate rose to 9.5% last year, from 8.3% in 2020.
Also, food insecurity among childless households was 9.4% last year, up from 8.8% in 2020. Among women living alone, the rate jumped to 13.2%, from 11% a year earlier.
Overall, however, the share of households contending with food insecurity remained statistically the same in 2021 as the year before. Some 10.2%, or 13.5 million households, were food insecure last year, according to the report, which is released annually.
More help for families with children
The relief package increased the maximum credit to $3,600 for children under age 6 and $3,000 for those ages 6 through 17 for 2021. Heads of households earning up to $112,500 a year and married couples making up to $150,000 were eligible for the full amount.
“What it did was made sure that they had resources to spend every month,” Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, said of the enhanced payments.
Food insecurity declined overall for households with children, married couples with kids and single mothers with children. It also dropped for households headed by Black Americans and those in the South, both of which saw increases in food insecurity in 2020.
More hunger among the elderly and childless
Food insecurity among the elderly living alone may have increased because Social Security payments in 2021 did not reflect the jump in prices for groceries and other items, which started last year, said James Ziliak, director of the Center for Poverty Research at the University of Kentucky.
And while the unemployment rate dropped last year, several million Americans left the labor force, he pointed out. Some may not have children, which makes it harder for them to get help from the government.
“There’s just not much assistance out there in the safety net for the childless,” Ziliak said.
Concerns about 2022
The improvements in food security for families may not continue in 2022, experts warn.
At the same time, the beefed-up child tax credit, including the monthly payments, was not renewed for this year. Also, a growing number of states are ending enhanced food stamp benefits that were enacted at the start of the pandemic.
“Sadly, the 2022 report, for families with children, may look less rosy,” Ziliak said.