Today, Millions More Children in America Are Struggling with Hunger

One child struggling with hunger is one too many. But the heartbreaking reality is that today, nearly two years after the COVID-19 pandemic caused school closures and forced shutdowns, millions more children in America are struggling with hunger.

Since March 2020, food insecurity rates across the nation for families with children have risen by nearly two-thirds. Close to 1 in 5 U.S. families reported in December that they did not have enough food. Black and Hispanic children have been disproportionately impacted — they are twice as likely as white children to face hunger in America.

Sadly, today, the U.S. continues to lag behind most peer countries in meeting the needs of children and families during the pandemic. In Save the Children’s recent report, Childhood in the Time of COVID*, we examine the multiple hardships, including hunger, that are making it more difficult for children to reach their full potential. Simply put, going back to “normal” will not be enough for these kids.

No child can be hungry for knowledge if they’re hungry for food

Studies have shown that hunger can negatively impact children’s academic performance and behavior in school, preventing them from developing to their full potential. Many studies have shown that hungry children have a hard time learning. 

Hungry students are more likely to...

  • have less energy
  • be more easily distracted and less interested in schoolwork
  • have lower math scores

  • repeat a grade
  • come to school late or miss school entirely
A young girl wears a facemask that has been hand-drawn on her photo.

Aleeah's school in Eastern Tennessee has been on a modified schedule due to COVID-19. She only attends school two days a week. 

Statistics about child hunger in America

Today, there are an estimated 17 million children struggling with hunger in America – 6 million more than before the pandemic. And 2.7 million more families are going hungry.

While nearly every state has pockets of great disadvantage, these states struggle with child hunger the most:

  • Food scarcity is highest in Louisiana, where 25% of families with children struggle with hunger
  • In Arkansas, 23% of families with children struggle with hunger
  • Kentucky, Maryland, Oklahoma and Washington, D.C. all report a 22% rate of family hunger
  • In Maryland, Hispanic and Black families are almost 4 times as likely to face hunger as white families
  • Hispanic families are similarly disadvantaged in New York, where 38% do not have enough food, compared to 11% of white families

Child hunger in America has hit the poorest families the hardest

A family of five sit outside of thier home in Central Valley, CA while wearing cloth face masks to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

Ramon, Olga and their young children have endured multiple hardships. The couple both had COVID. Olga lost her father to the disease. And it’s been hard to pay bills and afford food.

Across the nation, the poorest families are upwards of 15 times as likely as the wealthiest to be hungry. In California, estimates suggest all of the wealthiest families have enough to eat, but half of the poorest do not. 

For one California family specifically, food became both too expensive and too unavailable in June 2020 as COVID outbreaks began to spread rapidly across agricultural communities in the Central Valley.

 “It was a struggle to find household items and food at the markets,” said Olga, a seasonal farmworker who works full-time and did not qualify for unemployment benefits or stimulus payments when both she and her husband tested positive for COVID. They got by with the help of Olga’s sisters, who left boxes of food on their doorstep.

Once their quarantine was lifted, waiting in long food pantry drive-through lines became the family’s normal way of getting the food they needed. Often they had to travel to neighboring towns.

COVID has been a horrific disruptor to child hunger in America

A student gets her forehead temperature checked in the hallway of a school in Tennessee.

7-year-old Kenzlie gets her temperature taken upon entering her school in Eastern Tennessee. Kenzlie is on a modified schedule due to COVID-19 and only attends school two days a week.

Every child deserves a bright future, yet COVID has been a horrific disruptor to progress around reducing child hunger in America.

With 30 million children in the U.S. depending on school for meals, school closures and loss of family income mean food insecurity rates will rise.

Not only has the pandemic has left millions of families financially strapped and stretched to the limit as they juggle work and helping kids with remote learning, it has brought illness, loss and desperation to millions of families

Children are missing out on the social, emotional and academic fundamentals of childhood. Too many are experiencing hardships and trauma that will echo through their lives and communities for years to come. In short, the pandemic has robbed kids of the normalcy that is essential to their healthy growth and development.

Urgent action is needed to ensure all America’s children can reach their full potential.  

*Read the full Childhood Report: Childhood in the Time of COVID here


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