Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index

In U.S., Percentage Struggling to Afford Food at 7-Year Low

Written by Gallup | Jun 05, 2015

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • 15.8% of U.S. adults struggled to afford food in past 12 months
  • Lowest percentage recorded since Gallup and Healthways began tracking metric in '08

WASHINGTON, D.C -- In the first quarter of 2015, 15.8% of Americans reported that in the last 12 months they had struggled to afford food for themselves or their families. This is the lowest percentage measured since the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index started in 2008.

The previous low was in the first quarter of 2008, when 16.4% of Americans reported lacking enough money to buy food for themselves or their families. The percentage peaked in the third quarter of 2013, when nearly one in five Americans said they struggled to afford food.

The decrease in the percentage of Americans agreeing that they have struggled to afford food comes as their financial optimism andperceptions of job creation in their workplaces are at record highs, and as unemployment, as measured by Gallup and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, generally has been declining. Fewer Americans struggling to afford food is a positive sign that the economic recovery could be benefitting some of the poorest Americans.

Across Key Demographic Groups, Fewer Struggle to Afford Food

Across most key demographic groups, the percentage who reported struggling to afford food in the first quarter of 2015 is at least marginally lower than the same period last year, when 17.4% of Americans reported this. Blacks, Asians, younger Americans and lower-income Americans saw the most improvement in their ability to afford food.

Overall, blacks and Hispanics are about twice as likely as whites to report experiencing difficulty affording food. Those with annual household incomes of $24,000 to $47,999 are half as likely to report this as those living in households earning less than $24,000 a year. Reported struggles to afford food are lower among each successively higher income group, but with smaller differences between income categories.

Women More Likely Than Men to Struggle to Buy Food

Women are more likely to report struggling to afford food than men, a pattern consistent over time. In the first quarter of 2015, 18.3% of women said they struggled to buy food, much higher than the 13.1% of men who reported the same.

The higher incidence of single mothers compared with single fathers could explain why more women report struggling to buy food than men. Previous Gallup research shows that single-parent households are much more likely to have difficulty affording food. Single-mother households make up a much larger share of single-parent households in the U.S. than do single-father households. In the first quarter of 2015, Gallup found that 19.3% of single mothers who have never been married with two children reported struggling to afford food versus 13.9% of single fathers who have never been married with two children.

Separated, Divorced Much More Likely to Struggle to Afford Food

Separated Americans are more likely than those of any other marital status group to report struggling to afford food. This is consistent with previous Gallup research showing separated Americans have sharply lower well-being than those of any other marital status group.

Both separated and divorced Americans are more likely than married and single Americans to report struggling to afford food in the past 12 months. Having a single income to spend on food as opposed to two incomes, in addition to the loss of personal net worth that often occurs during a divorce or an extended separation, are just two factors that could explain the higher self-reported incidence of struggling to afford food among separated and divorced Americans.

Bottom Line

The percentage of Americans reporting an inability to afford food is the lowest it has been in seven years, an encouraging sign possibly indicating that those who previously struggled to meet this basic need are now feeling the positive effects of the economic recovery. In addition to an improving U.S. job market, world food prices have declined since April 2014, which could be another possible explanation for the dip in the percentage of Americans reporting a struggle to afford food in the past 12 months.

Despite this positive improvement in Americans' ability to afford food, wide disparities in this metric still exist across gender, income, marital status, and race and ethnicity groups.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 1-March 31, 2015, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, with a random sample of 43,575 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±0.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of each subgroup, the margin of sampling error is at the 95% confidence level.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index works.