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Some states hit harder by food insecurity linked to COVID-19

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USDA Photo by Lance Cheung Food bank Alamodome USDA.jpg
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Disaster Household Distributions have been facilitated through partners such as San Antonio Food Bank (SAFB) who have created this mass distribution sites, at the Alamodome to efficiently get food to more than 2,000 households impacted by COVID.
Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and New Mexico affected most by COVID-19 pandemic.

Food insecurity in America is reaching an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are large regional differences in the severity of the impact.

Experts project that more than 50 million Americans will be food insecure in 2020, including about 17 million children, said Craig Gundersen, ACES distinguished professor in the department of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois.

Gundersen estimated food insecurity using Map the Meal Gap, an interactive model he developed for Feeding America, a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks in the U.S. For the current report, he combined Map the Meal Gap data with projected unemployment numbers.

“One of the key things about COVID-19 is how there's differential impacts across the country and by demographic groups. People with college education generally have not seen much of an impact on either unemployment rates or incomes. However, people in lower-wage jobs tend to be impacted a lot more,” Gundersen stated. “We would expect greater impact of COVID-19 in areas with a high concentration of service industry jobs.”

The report shows that the hardest-hit states are the same as before the pandemic – Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and New Mexico ­– but now with higher rates. Jefferson County, Miss., has the highest food insecurity rate in the country, at 30.4%.

However, the pandemic has disproportionately affected other states. For example, Nevada jumped from 20th to eighth highest in food insecurity rates by state.

“Areas like Nevada, which has a strong emphasis on the service industry and tourism, will have substantially higher rates of increase in food insecurity than areas with fewer service sector workers,” Gundersen explained.

These findings can help direct relief efforts, he noted.

“Resources should continue to be directed towards those areas with greater needs before, during and after COVID-19, but we also have to recognize that during the pandemic situation, there are areas of the country, such as Nevada, which may need more emergency assistance in the near term,” Gundersen said.

“Furthermore, some of these jobs may not come back; tourism may be permanently down in the U.S. So, these impacts could also have longer-term ramifications,” he concluded.

The article, “Food Insecurity during COVID-19,” was published in Applied Economic Perspectives & Policy.

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