Panel Paper: The Food Pantry Population and the Great Recession

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 10:25 AM
Boardroom (Ritz Carlton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Colleen Heflin and Ashley Price, University of Missouri

Food insecurity in America is a significant social problem with roughly 1 in 7 Americans experiencing food insecurity in 2011. During the twelve months ending in December 2009, 5.6 million households (or 4.8 percent of all American households) obtained food from emergency food pantries at least once. These households included 10.5 million adults and 5.7 million children. The level of food pantry participation for 2009 represents an 18 percent increase over the 2008 household participation level of 4.1 percent. Furthermore, among all households with incomes below the federal poverty threshold, the population at greatest risk of food insecurity, 20 percent reported using food pantries (Nord et al, 2010).  Another marker of the growing importance of food pantries is their growing numbers: since 2007, when the current recession began, the number of food pantries has risen over 20% (Nord, Coleman-Jensen, Andrews & Carlson, 2010).

The emergency food pantry as a source of free food to prepare at home is a relatively new community-based institution emerging around 1979 (Daponte and Bade 2006). The Reagan administration’s cuts to the Food Stamp Program in the early 1980s encouraged the anti-hunger community to provide private assistance. An additional factor is the reemergence of the government commodities program in the early 1980s, which used charitable organizations to distribute government commodities to the low-income populations, helped to move the network from an ad hoc to a more permanent status.  As public government programs continue to face budget cuts, the emergency food assistance networks continue to grow and evolve (Eisinger, 2002). 

We will use data from the 2001-2012 December Current Population Survey, which contains the Food Security Module, to track how participation in emergency food assistance programs (food pantries and soup kitchens) has changed both among groups (household types, regional variation, education, race, and age differences) and over time.  The time span will include periods before, during and after the Great Recession of 2008 in order to document how usage has varied. We will supplement this information with data on the number of food pantries registered as charitable organizations by state over time in order to get a sense of how the supply of food pantries has changed over the same time period.

Results will be of interest to those poverty and social policy scholars interested in documenting coping strategies among the disadvantaged.  The work will also shed light on how these coping strategies have changed as a result of the Great Recession.