Pennsylvanians are experiencing hunger at highest levels since onset of pandemic

Person with face mask and rubber gloves loading groceries into back of car.

Community safety nets, such as free food distribution programs like the one shown here, have played a significant role in meeting household food needs in Pennsylvania. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.Image: USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

At the end of 2020, more than 12% of Pennsylvania households were experiencing hunger – the highest rate since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to researchers in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Their report confirms anecdotal and media reports and highlights the role that community resources, such as food pantries and free school lunches, are playing in the state.

“We’ve seen the media accounts of exceptionally long lines at food banks and wanted to get a better understanding of the magnitude of the problem,” said Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development (NERCRD).

“Our synthesis suggests that while the state’s rate of food insufficiency tends to be lower than the nation’s as a whole, it is still a significant and growing problem,” he said. “More than one in 10 households in Pennsylvania sometimes or often didn’t have enough food to eat last year, and food insufficiency status has grown worse for all but the wealthiest Pennsylvanians since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Goetz and his colleagues examined data from the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, a survey administered in three phases beginning in 2020 to a randomly selected representative sample of U.S. households. The goal of the survey is to better understand the social and economic effects that the coronavirus pandemic has had on households across the country.

Survey respondents answer questions about their employment status, food and housing security, education disruptions, and physical and mental well-being. When responding to questions about food sufficiency and availability, they base their answers on the previous seven days.

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