A record number of Americans face hunger this year as the catastrophic economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic looks set to leave tens of millions of people unable to buy enough food to feed their families.
Nationwide, the demand for aid at food banks and pantries has soared since the virus forced the economy to be shut down, resulting in more than 40m new unemployment benefit claims, according to the latest figures.
As a result, an estimated one in four children, the equivalent of 18 million minors, could need food aid this year – a 63% increase compared to 2018.
Overall, about 54 million people across the US could go hungry without help from food banks, food stamps, and other aid, according to an analysis by Feeding America, the national food bank network.
Projected rates of food insecurity among the US population in 2020
America’s food insecurity crisis was dire even before the Covid-19 pandemic when at least 37 million people lived in households without adequate resources to guarantee consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
Food insecurity varies vastly from state to state, and county to county and had only recently fallen to pre-Great Recession levels. The current crisis will almost certainly reverse hard-fought-for improvements, and exacerbate existing inequalities.
It’s the deep south where the economic impact and food insecurity will probably penetrate deepest: more than 11 million people in the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico, Texas, and Tennessee are projected to suffer food insecurity in 2020.
The projections assume a national annual unemployment rate of 11.5% – 7.6 percentage points higher than 2018 – and a national annual poverty rate of 16.6% – 4.8 points higher than in 2018.
In Mississippi, proportionately the worst-affected state before and since the pandemic, almost three-quarters of a million people could need food aid this year, including one in every three children.
Further west, tourist mecca Las Vegas is bracing itself for tough times as even the casinos, hotels, and restaurants which survive the shutdown will take months to fully reopen.
“We were on the precipice of being the first food bank to meet the meal gap but we just don’t have the food sources to meet this sudden, dramatic increase. We have to completely retool our organization to accommodate this,” said Larry Scott, chief operating officer of the Three Square food bank in the city.
Here, about 65% more food aid will be needed to stop people from going hungry: one of the biggest jumps in the country. “People are going to go hungry, that’s the truth,” said Scott.
The situation looks dire statewide: one in three children and one in five adults in Nevada are projected to suffer from food insecurity this year – a rise of almost 60% since 2018.
Why? The Nevada jobless figure is higher than any state ever, including during the Great Depression, signaling an extraordinary turnabout in fortune after unemployment hit an all-time low in February.
“This pandemic continues to impact the lives and livelihoods of our neighbors nationwide, putting millions of additional people at risk of hunger while continuing to hurt people already familiar with hardship,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO of Feeding America.