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One out of every eight American adults is struggling to afford enough food.

According to October 2023 data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, nearly 28 million adults nationwide — 12.5% of the adult population[1] — were living in homes where there was either sometimes or often not enough to eat in the last week. This is the highest that figure has reached since the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey indicated that 3.0% of American adults “often” did not have enough to eat in the last week and 9.5% “sometimes” did not have enough food that October. Another 33.8% reported having enough food, but not always the kinds they wanted, while 53.7% could afford and access the kinds of food they wanted at all times.

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What is food insecurity?

Definitions of food security and insecurity may vary, but the Department of Agriculture defines it as access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all members of a household. According to the department, a household is considered food secure if it can eat an adequately nutritious diet without resorting to using emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing, or other measures.

The Household Pulse Survey, which began as a data collection project at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, includes questions on whether respondents and their families are having trouble affording food, giving a snapshot of food security in the US from early in the pandemic until now.

How have food insecurity levels changed during the pandemic?

The rate of adults living in homes where they sometimes or often don’t have enough to eat started to rise in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 before falling in 2021. But from August 2021 to October 2023, that percentage grew consistently from 7.8% to 12.5%.

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Of respondents with limited access to food, the Household Pulse Survey indicates that 76.8% of people were not eating enough because they couldn’t afford to.

What government support exists for people who can’t access enough food?

The Department of Agriculture provides nutritional support to the American people through a host of programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP participation increased from 37.1 million in January 2020 to 41.4 million in October 2023.

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Early in the pandemic, Congress approved additional SNAP funding, raising the average per-person benefit from $121 in February 2020 to $247 by May 2021.

But that additional support ended in March 2023. From February to April 2023, the average monthly value SNAP enrollees received dropped 28% from $246 to $177. The monthly average, adjusted for inflation, remains higher than it was before the pandemic.

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From March to October 2023, the percentage of adults in food insecure households increased 1.8 points.

Meanwhile, Congress is yet to approve general funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) — which supports pregnant women, new mothers and their kids — beyond January 2024. WIC supported 6.7 million Americans as of September 2023.

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If you’re looking for help affording food, you can find information on government food assistance programs here.

Learn more about food insecurity in the US and get the data directly in your inbox by subscribing to our weekly newsletter.

Household Pulse Survey
Last updated
November 8, 2023

Percentages are based on the total adult population excluding the 'did not report' category.