50 Years of Food Insecurity History Informs Hunger Solutions

Project Bread


Project Bread and Children’s HealthWatch published two new briefs this year on the history of food insecurity and the need for sustainable solutions to hunger.

To mark our 50th year anniversary, Project Bread partnered with Children’s HealthWatch on two research briefs:

The briefs illustrate racial disparities in food security and barriers to food access since the 1960s. Both briefs hope to drive conversations that identify solutions to food insecurity so that all children and adults in the Commonwealth have enough food to thrive.

Food Insecurity and its Relationship to Income, Employment, and Poverty

This brief describes how unemployment rates, income instability, and the resulting rates of poverty and food insecurity in the US have evolved over time.  Stagnant wages and increased costs of living have made it more challenging for households to afford basic needs, such as food. 

Black and Latino workers have been disproportionately impacted by stagnant wages, as their wage growth has only increased by 18.9% and 16.7% respectively over the past 40 years, compared to white workers (30.1%).  If the federal minimum wage had risen along with productivity growth, it would have been over $22/hour by 2021.

In addition, minimum-wage or low-paid jobs are increasingly more unstable due to “just-in-time scheduling,” where work schedules are determined only a few days, and sometimes a few hours, in advance of the shift. This causes workers significant income volatility and makes paying for basic expenses like food, rent, and utilities a challenge. Not surprisingly, these households rely on public assistance to meet their basic needs.

As of 2018, 74% of all families participating in  SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) had at least one household member who was working.

By strengthening national social infrastructures, including the public food assistance system, and implementing permanent structural changes, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and guaranteed income, are essential to address economic hardship at its root. Additionally, the collective federal nutrition programs and privately-funded charitable food network must be robust enough to ensure households only need to access these programs in emergencies. It is within our capabilities to provide a pathway to a better future for all people in the US. 

National Efforts to End Food Insecurity and Hunger

This brief shows how changes in public policy, and funding for public and private assistance programs, have a large influence on people’s ability to access and afford food across the US, especially during economic downturns. 

Since the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, federal nutrition programs, such as SNAP/food stamps, School Meals, WIC, and Summer Meals, have provided large scale, sustainable, and reliable food resources for millions of families. 

But the 1982 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act and the 1983 creation of TEFAP (Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program) directed large transfers of agricultural surplus to the newly created private charitable food system, accelerating the growth of food banks and food pantries.

The growing privatization of public food assistance resulted in greater reliance on the emergency food assistance system for long-term food needs, rather than its intended design of providing short-term food resources. The December 2020 Well-Being and Basic Needs Survey found that use of emergency food resources increased almost 50% from 2019 to 2020.

It is essential that all food programs are available to everyone — regardless of immigration status, race, ethnicity, age, or employment status — and that these programs are structured to meet the nutritional needs of all people. Black and Latino communities have experienced persistently high rates of food insecurity since food insecurity measurement began in 1995. Numerous barriers prevent families from accessing food resources, such as social stigma, discrimination, and lack of language assistance. 

You can make hunger history - with your advocacy!

It is critical to expand public food programs and other supports and to rectify historical injustices in order to combat food insecurity and hunger. If you’d like to take action to fight hunger today, you can join our Action Team to learn about the latest Massachusetts initiatives and advocate for policies to solve hunger!

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