American Children Are Going Hungry in the Coronavirus Pandemic

Rates of food insecurity among kids have reached “an extent unprecedented in modern times.”
May 6, 2020, 10:23pm
A woman and her child pick from a selection of donated food at the "Bed-sty Campaign Against Hunger" food pantry in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, NY, April 14, 2020.

Young children in the U.S. are currently being crushed by an unprecedented hunger crisis during the coronavirus pandemic. Almost one in five households with kids under 12 reported struggling with food insecurity last month, according to a new study out Wednesday.

Utilizing data from two surveys — the COVID Impact Survey and The Hamilton Project/Future of the Middle Class Initiative Survey of Mothers with Young Children — a fellow at the Brookings Institute found that rates of food insecurity among kids have reached “an extent unprecedented in modern times.”

“This is alarming,” Lauren Bauer, a Brookings fellow in economic studies, told the New York Times. “These are households cutting back on portion sizes, having kids skip meals. The numbers are much higher than I expected.”

The Survey of Mothers with Young Children found that 17.4% of mothers with kids younger than 12 reported their kids weren’t eating enough because they couldn’t afford food last month. The rate represents a quadrupling from 2018 data, and it’s nearly three times higher than the level of hunger reported among kids during the Great Recession, Bauer said.

Last month, Feeding America warned that 18 million kids could go hungry during the coronavirus pandemic, given the staggering job loss that’s forced families to enter miles-long lines for food banks. The organization noted that the country’s previous high was during the worst of the recession in 2009, when 17.2 million kids went hungry. Approximately 1 in 4 kids could suffer this time around, Feeding America said, especially since many schools — a lifeline for poor kids — are closed to prevent the virus’ spread.

Before the pandemic hit, 37.2 million Americans dealt with food insecurity, including 11.2 million children. Even in normal times, many affected households struggle to feed themselves with government benefits offered through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially referred to as food stamps. The Brookings Institute suggested Wednesday that the government rapidly expand maximum SNAP benefits by at least 15%. Democrats have called for a similar expansion in recent weeks, though they’ve been unsuccessful in clinching it so far.

“New nationally representative surveys fielded since the pandemic began show that rates of food insecurity overall, among households with children, and among children themselves are higher than they have ever been on record,” Bauer wrote in a post about her research Wednesday. “Food insecurity represents an urgent matter for policymakers in the capitol and in statehouses across the country.”

Cover: A woman and her child pick from a selection of donated food at the "Bed-sty Campaign Against Hunger" food pantry in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, NY, April 14, 2020. As millions lose their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity for many has become a real issue. (Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)