A shopping cart full of groceries viewed from above. Eddie Welker via flickr, CCO.

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Estefani Iraheta, a mother of two who requested donated food from her local Salvation Army when the pandemic hit. Every time she goes to pick up the canned food and staples, more people are waiting in line with her, seeking food for their families. As of August 2020, an estimated 12 percent of U.S. households, or roughly 1 in 8 U.S. households, did not have enough food within the last week; for U.S. households with children, nearly 20% stated they did not have enough food the previous week. 

Food insecurity refers to inconsistent access to sufficient, nutritious food that is necessary to live a healthy life. While hunger is a related issue, food insecurity is fundamentally about a lack of household resources. And the COVID-pandemic has worsened U.S. food insecurity by increasing unemployment, raising food prices, and closing schools. 

Schools are a vital institution, not only for learning but also for access to social services, including regular meals. From kindergarten to college, many schools offer a dependable source of community support and reliable access to food. Even before the pandemic, however, food insecurity has been a critical issue for U.S. students. In recent years, researchers have investigated how educational institutions handle this issue.
More recently, scholars have focused on the prevalence of food insecurity among college students, who are often viewed as a privileged group. In particular, research has devoted attention to how colleges do, or do not, address food insecurity.
Food insecurity is only one consequence of a larger societal issue: poverty and precarity in the United States. In 2019, approximately 34 million Americans were living in poverty, or 10% of the U.S. population. It’s important to recognize that poverty is structured not just by income, but by race, gender, citizenship, and other factors. Here are some key sociological resources on the experience of living poverty in the United States.

For more news coverage on food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis in the United States, view The New York Times’ recent article and photo essay.