Tag Archives: Household Pulse Survey

Hunger Surges During COVID Crisis

Widespread hunger and unemployment drove millions of Americans into food-lines during the Great Depression of 1930; but no one could have predicted that scenario repeating itself some 90 years later, in the land of plenty, plump with the prospect of the American dream.

Today, that dream is fast becoming a nightmare, particularly for minorities, people of color, and marginalized communities.

As COVID-19 wipes out American jobs and the economy, long lines of hungry Americans arrive on foot and in cars outside soup kitchens and food pantries, desperate for handouts to feed their families. In 2020, it’s an unsettling reminder that even a powerful nation like America is no match for a deadly virus trailing dysfunction, death and hunger in its wake.

Experts say that the spike in unemployment and growing food insecurity echo Depression-era levels of job loss and hunger.

The numbers are staggering.

More than 25  million Americans lost jobs due to the pandemic and many of those jobs are permanently disappearing, dashing hopes of a swift economic rebound. Almost 57 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits even as Congress continues to debate the stimulus package. And, a Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey on food insufficiency found that almost 37 million people, including 11 million children, experienced food insecurity sometime in 2018.

That number is expected to rise as the COVID19 pandemic continues to exact a devastating toll on the American public, notes a Feeding America economic model, which estimates that 54 million people, including 18 million children, may experience food insecurity in 2020 – getting scarily close to the 60 million who went hungry during the Great Depression.



People go hungry because inequities like racism, poverty, maldistribution, and other systemic forms of oppression collide to create what Ami McReynolds of the Feeding America Network calls ‘a perfect storm’ that creates food insecurity, despite a global food surplus.

Food insecurity refers to the existence of social conditions, says the John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, “that can include household members going hungry because they can’t afford enough food, as well as having to skip meals, compromise on nutrition, or rely on emergency food sources such as food banks, food pantries, or soup kitchens.”

COVID- 19 has made these inequities more visible, forcing the hunger crisis to emerge from the shadows.

Right now, farmers are dumping milk even as grocery stores ration dairy supplies, because the pandemic has disrupted crossovers between food supply chains. So, people experience food insecurity because the food supply chain cannot reorient food distribution from the food service infrastructure (schools, restaurants which are closed), to retail outlets such as grocery stores.

“Hunger has surged during the COVID crisis,” said Rev. David Beckmann, President Emeritus of Bread for the World, echoing the concerns of experts at a briefing on food insecurity hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 28,

Individuals at risk of food insecurity tend to work in low-income professions, or the leisure and service industries which have closed and laid off staff, reports Feeding America. Families now endure hardships that will increase their reliance on charitable food assistance programs for the foreseeable future. Across the nation, food insecurity has “doubled overall, and tripled among households with children,” and remains “elevated across all states,” says a report from the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research.

Emerging data analyzed by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 38 to 46 million people including 9 to17 million children aren’t getting enough to eat now.

Families with children are being hit hardest, said Rev.Beckmann, referring to an alarming new study from the Brookings Institute which found that 14 million children ages 12 and under, are not getting enough to eat during the coronavirus crisis – a rate that’s five times higher than before the pandemic.

Lauren Bauer, a researcher on The Hamilton Project at Brookings, examined census data and found that only 15% of children from low income households who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, were getting the food they need. In many cases, census respondents stated that they could not afford enough food and lacked adequate resources to feed their families.

Bauer also found that minority communities – African-American, Latino, and Asian families with children – were “experiencing food insecurity at even higher and extremely alarming rates” than white families with children.

Advocates for food justice want to solve the hunger crisis by changing the status quo for low wage workers, communities of color and the working poor who experience ‘high rates of poverty and  food insecurity.’ That means, fighting the economic disparities and social injustices which are the root causes of hunger, to help people put food on the table. In a pandemic that challenge is even harder.

It will take a coalition of charities, food banks, nonprofits, and government agencies working to develop strategies that build sustainable food systems, to combat the hunger epidemic that people are experiencing in America.

Bread for the World recently published the 2020 Hunger Report, Better Nutrition, Better Tomorrow, which examines the structural inequities within food systems and charts a path to ending the hunger.

Rev.Beckmann called for increased nutrition assistance in SNAP benefit levels and extending the pandemic EBT in the COVID relief bill now under negotiation. He also recommended making federal assistance available to immigrants by reversing recent changes to the Public-Charge rule and allowing basic assistance to undocumented people during the pandemic.  As an fillip to its policy reform efforts, Bread for the World urges people to contact members of Congress and demand policy reforms to alleviate hardships for people experiencing hunger and malnutrition .

The USDA enabled schools and community sponsors to set up drive-through pick-ups and meal delivery on bus routes at schools, and, in the summer, offered nationwide waivers that give child nutrition program operators more flexibility in feeding children, while promoting social distancing amid COVID-19 restrictions.

With millions of households struggling to afford the basics, the CBPP is recommending ‘robust’ relief measures like boosting SNAP benefits for all SNAP participants, especially to the poorest households, in order to outlast any fallout from the pandemic.

Local produce at The People’s Nite Market, San Antonio, TX

At the grassroots level, the best way forward is to give communities the power to grow their own food, suggested Jovanna Lopez, a food activist and suburban farmer from San Antonio.  It can be hard for people in so-called food deserts to find healthful food.

Lopez is a co-founder of The People’s Nite Market, a farmers market that makes local produce available to a historically disenfranchised population in the city. Vendors accept SNAP, cash or credit cards.

While food banks and emergency food assistance offer a stopgap solution during the pandemic, it will require more permanent, sustainable strategies to put healthy food options on the table of food-insecure families.

At Bread for the World, the way forward is clear. Their call to action includes “tools and training for improved agriculture,.. roads to get food to market,…empowering women to play more active roles in their communities, and government plans to educate, care, and feed their people.”

“It’s more than just giving people a meal a day.”

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash

I’m Hungry: Shutterstock


Taking The Pulse Of America In The Pandemic

Our paychecks and mental health took a beating in the pandemic, say Americans.

The Census Bureau agrees. The results of its experimental Household Pulse Survey confirm that’s where American households have been hit the hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

As the virus surged across the United States trailing economic and social havoc in its wake, it completely upended life as we know it.

It has taken a devastating toll on households, disrupting jobs, livelihoods, education, housing and healthcare.  The pandemic has forced a ‘new normal’ upon the American public, putting lives on hold as people yield and adjust to a new reality.

When daily life stalled in US due to quarantine and shelter in place restrictions, so did Census 2020. The Census Bureau had to recalibrate plans to complete its ongoing decennial and adjust operations in response to an unexpected crisis precipitated on the population it was preparing to survey.

In April, the Census Bureau set out to take the pulse of households affected by the pandemic.

It launched an $1.2 million Household Pulse Survey. to gauge the impact of the social and economic effects of COVID-19 on American households. The survey began on April 23 and will continue over a period of 90 days  through late July; data is collected and released on a weekly basis.

The Household Pulse Survey examines how lives in American households have altered as they experience the pandemic, by measuring the the impact on jobs, finances schooling , physical and mental wellbeing, as well as access to food, housing and health care.

The study asks questions such as: Did anyone in your household experience a loss of employment income ? What will you use your stimulus payment for? Did you get enough food? Feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge? Able to stop or control worrying? Feeling down, depressed, or hopeless?

The survey which is available in English and Spanish, was designed in collaboration with the Bureau of Labor Statistics; the USDA Economic Research Service; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the National Center for Health Statistics; and the National Center for Education Statistics.

Data that the survey captures on the widespread disruption to individuals, families and communities across the country will provide valuable insights to federal and state efforts targeting post-pandemic policy and recovery.

In its initial analysis, the Census Bureau found that almost half of US households lost  wages during the pandemic.

Results were most concerning for households with children. Adults in households with children were more likely to report permanent loss of employment and food shortages since the pandemic began.

In 55% of households with a child under the age of 18, at least one adult had lost employment income since the COVID-19 pandemic started. The responses indicated that these households sometimes did not have enough to eat “when compared to adults not living with children.” Adults in these households “were also less confident in their ability to pay their rent or mortgage on time.

Earlier in May, the World Health Organization warned of “a massive increase’ in depression and anxiety as social distancing leading to isolation and increased stress,  was compounded by the “distress caused by loss of income and often employment.”

Critics of the Household Pulse Survey caution that the standard error for the data is high, given its low response rate; nonetheless, the survey results are worrying.

In its evaluation of the data, the CDC estimates that the percentage of adults who reported symptoms of anxiety or depression experienced these symptoms “ more than half the days or nearly every day.

The impact on mental health is ‘disturbing’ but consistent with how people’s lives are” at this time, reports a Census Bureau official.

As they face an unpredictable future that is full of questions with few easy answers, many families feel fear and uncertainty.

Is this situation permanent? Temporary?

Or are we stuck on pause for the foreseeable future?

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.

Coverage for Census 2020 has been facilitated through a grant from the United Way Bay Area.

Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash