Saturday, May 7, 2011

Visually Exploring Food Insecurity in the U.S.

Poverty and Policy has a good summary of a fascinating new tool and dataset that I'm working with as a part of my job, Feeding America's Map the Meal Gap, which charts the level of food insecurity in the U.S. by county. Here's the summary map:

And I'll just borrow Poverty and Policy's summary:
The gap in the title refers to the estimated number of additional meals that people who said they couldn't always afford to eat would have if they did. The methodology used to calculate the gap is somewhat complicated. So I’ll just refer those interested to the executive summary.
The map is online and interactive, with different shades of green indicating different food insecurity rates in counties across the U.S.
Mouse over it and you get statewide food insecurity rates, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food security report for 2009.
But that’s only the beginning. You also get:
  • The number of food insecure people.
  • The percentages of food insecurity in three different income bands based on eligibility ceilings for food stamps and for some other federal nutrition assistance programs like WIC.
  • The additional funds that would have been needed to provide everyone with enough to eat in 2009.
  • The average cost of a meal, based on USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan — the market basket used to determine food stamp benefits.
And you can get these data in print-out form for every county and food bank service area in the country. Coming soon, I understand, will be the same data for each Congressional district.
All this detail yields some important insights.
  • Food insecurity is everywhere — not just in the states or areas within states that we’re accustomed to thinking of as poor.
  • A large percentage of food insecure people aren’t eligible for federal nutrition assistance programs — a nationwide average of 29% in 2009.
  • People may be food insecure even with food stamps in part because the Thrifty Food Plan market basket costs considerably more in some places than the average nationwide.
  • For somewhere around $22 billion a year we could provide everyone in the country with enough to eat.
Very cool stuff - it will be super useful in my job.

I'll refrain from commenting on the policy implications from this dataset, but head over to Policy and Poverty for their take on what this data should mean for policy.

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