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Economic Characteristics of the Food Insecure

Perspectives on Opportunity

March 26, 2024


The United States Department of Agriculture annually measures food insecurity among US households
to assess whether Americans have access to adequate food. Intuition suggests that food insecurity
rates should correlate to household resources, offering policymakers an important metric to guide
government assistance efforts. In this report, we examine the effectiveness of the food insecurity rate
in identifying financially constrained households by exploring the income and food-expenditure
distributions for households experiencing food insecurity and comparing them to those who are food
secure. Consistent with intuition, we find that food-insecure households skew toward the bottom of
the income distribution. However, after adjusting for household composition and regional variation in
cost of living, we find that one-quarter of food-insecure households fall within the top three quintiles
of the income distribution and that food-insecure households spend about as much as food-secure
households do on food per week. Lastly, we find that the relationship between food insecurity and
indicators of economic hardship has weakened over time.