Arkansas, U.S. food insecurity rates decline in recent report, remain above pre-recession rates

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 1,004 views 

While a better Arkansas economy has helped lower the state’s 2013-2015 food insecurity rate to 19.2% from the 19.7% in the 2010-2012 period, national and regional food bank officials say more help is needed and the rates remain above pre-recession realities.

Food Insecurity dropped nationwide from 14.9% in 2014 to 12.7% in 2015, but the rate remains above the pre-recessionary low of 11.1% set in 2007, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food insecure means a family reported difficulty at some time during the year providing enough food for all family members because of a lack of resources or lack of access.

The new report shows 42.2 million people are still in need of food in the United States. That equals 15.8 million households, or 12.7% of households, experiencing food insecurity, with 13.1 million being children. In 2014, 14% of American homes were food insecure, 2.9 million seniors faced food insecurity, and of those, 1.2 million live alone.

Of U.S. households with children, 7.8% were classified as food insecure, down from 9.4% in 2014, and 5% of American households experience very low food security, down from 5.6% in 2014. Rates remain higher than the national average for households near or below the federal poverty line, households with children headed by a single woman or single man, African-American heads of household and Latino heads of households.

The number of people living in poverty is down from 46.7 million to 43.1 million. Poverty affect 13.5% of people in the U. S., down from 14.8% in 2014.

Feeding America CEO Diana Aviv said federal hunger relief programs need to remain fully funded to help ensure the insecurity rate continues to trend lower.

“While it is indeed good news that there has been a significant decline in the number of households who are food insecure, the fact that 1 in 6 children do not have consistent access to adequate amounts of healthy, nutritious food should be of great concern to all Americans,” Aviv said in a statement. “These findings are proof that the public and private sectors must continue to work together to address the needs of everyone facing hunger. We must in particular ensure that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other Federal nutrition programs remain fully funded.”

The average rate of Arkansas household food insecurity during 2013 to 2015 was 19.2% with 7.4% of Arkansas households experiencing very low food insecurity. The rate is down one-half percent from 19.7% during the timeframe of 2010-2012 and remains above the prerecession years of 2003 – 2005 of 14.7%.

Ken Kupchick, director of marketing and development for the Fort Smith-based River Valley Regional Food Bank, said a lower rate is good news but the rate is not falling fast enough.

“The USDA report tells us that about 5,800 fewer families are food insecure in Arkansas, as compared to five years ago. That’s certainly a good thing. The needle is moving in the right direction, but truthfully, it hasn’t moved far enough or fast enough. There remain 224,000 Arkansas families struggling without the adequate resources to fully provide enough food. For those on the front lines of the hunger war, the need is just as colossal now as when the family count was closer to 230,000,” Kupchick said.

Kupchick said he is seeing more help from individuals and businesses to address food insecurity. For example, Fort Smith-based OK Foods recently donated 500,000 pounds of chicken to the River Valley Regional Food Bank. The donation, to be spread out over five years, has an estimated value of $1.49 million and should provide up to 1.6 million servings to food insecure families.

Springdale-based Tyson Foods is one of the largest contributors to Feeding America and other groups working to reduce food insecurity. As of 2015, the company had donated 100 million pounds of food between 2000 and 2015 through its “KNOW Hunger” campaign, and in September 2015 donated $50 million in cash and in-kind donations as part of a five-year commitment to hunger relief efforts.

For Oklahoma, the food insecurity rate was 15.5% with 6.4% of households in Oklahoma having very low food security. The rate is down slightly from the 2010-2012 period of 15.3% and the pre-recession years of 2003-2005 of 14.6%

Of all the states, Mississippi had the highest rate of food insecurity at 20.8%. In fact, the top five states reporting the highest food insecurity were in the Southeast U.S. Following are the top 10 states with highest rate of food insecurity.
1. Mississippi, 20.8%
2. Arkansas, 19.2%
3. Louisiana, 18.4%
4. (tie)Alabama, 17.6%
Kentucky, 17.6%
6. (tie) Ohio, 16.1%
Oregon, 16.1%
8. North Carolina, 15.9%
9. Maine, 15.8%
10. Oklahoma, 15.5%

From July 2015 to July 2016, Arkansas saw the largest unemployment rate decline among all 50 states as the number of unemployed workers fell by more than 16,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Arkansas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for July was 3.9%, the same as June and well below year ago levels at 5.2%. The U.S. unemployment rate in July was 4.9%, unchanged from June and down from 5.3% from a year earlier.

There were an estimated 43,144 new jobs in Arkansas between July 2015-July 2016. Jobless rates for all Arkansas metro areas were lower in July than a year ago, but three of the eight metro areas – central Arkansas, Pine Bluff, and Texarkana – saw jobless rates rise in July compared to June. Jobless rates ranged from a low of 3.1% in Northwest Arkansas to a high of 6% in the Pine Bluff metro.

Unemployment rates were lower in July than a year earlier in 279 of the 387 metropolitan areas, higher in 87 areas, and unchanged in 21 areas. The lowest metro rate was 1.9% in Sioux Falls, S.D., and the highest metro rate was 23.7% in Yuma, Ariz., at 24.3%.s