Panel Paper: Food Insecurity and the Great Recession: The Role of Unemployment Duration, Credit and Housing Markets

Friday, November 3, 2017
Field (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Northwestern University, Patricia Anderson, Dartmouth College, Kristin Butcher, Wellesley College and Hilary Hoynes, University of California, Berkeley

In this paper, we investigate the role of changes in unemployment duration, leverage, and housing prices in generating food insecurity during the Great Recession. Food insecurity increased during the Great Recession by 35 percent, from an average of 11.4 percent of households before to 15.4 percent of households during. This increase in food insecurity obtains even conditional on a household’s income to poverty ratio. This fact suggests that households’ access to resources that are not well captured by traditional income-to-poverty measures changed over this time period. Using data on food insecurity from multiple years of the Current Population Survey, we examine whether states that were particularly hard hit by unemployment duration, deleveraging, and house price collapse are the places where food insecurity rose the most, even controlling for income-to-poverty. We find that increases in unemployment duration and collapses in house prices play an important role in the rise in food insecurity; while point estimates are also supportive of a role for leverage, they are not statistically significant. Overall, our results are consistent with the interpretation that before the Great Recession, low-income households (those between 100-180% of the poverty threshold) were spending between 10 to 15 percent more than after, given their income-to-poverty ratios.