Food insecurity and food assistance program participation in the U.S.: One year into the COVID-19 pandemic
Beginning in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a sudden and severe economic downturn and led to disruptions in domestic and international food systems and supply chains. Over the first few months of the pandemic, in the United States, many stores had empty shelves, bars and restaurants closed, and children could no longer go to school. The unemployment rate increased from 3.5% in February 2020 to 14.8% in April 2020, leading to economic instability for many households. As a result, household food insecurity, defined as having limited or inconsistent access to nutritious and affordable food, increased rapidly.
During the first months of 2021, vaccinations began rolling out, more individuals returned to in-person work, children to schools, and restrictions were gradually phased out. Unemployment has decreased since the April 2020 peak to 5.4% in July 2021, but remains above pre-pandemic levels. This brief describes the prevalence of household food insecurity, job disruptions, and food-related behaviors as reported by a nationally representative sample of 1,643 U.S. adults, both in the year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (March 2019 – March 2020) and during the first four months of 2021 (January – April 2021), a period representing approximately one year since the onset of the pandemic.