For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate with our families over an abundance of food and reflect on the many reasons we have to give thanks. Whatever the particular traditions are, food is usually a centerpiece. But as our recent Metro Atlanta Speaks survey shows, food isn’t always a given. In fact, for about 20 percent of us, food may be scarce.
For the first time, we asked about food insecurity, inspired by a question asked on the Current Population Survey’s food security supplement. We asked: “In the last 12 months, did you or members of your household ever cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?” The answer was revealing and sobering.
Regionally, one in five respondents said that, yes, they either had to skip a meal or reduce portions due to a lack of money. Nationally, according to USDA (see here), roughly 14 percent of households were classified as food insecure, but this used a different methodology and is not directly comparable. So food insecurity, no matter how you measure it, still affects a significant segment of our neighbors.
Because of the sheer size of the Metro Atlanta Speaks survey, we are able to look at the responses to this question through many lens. Where respondents live, for example, influences how this question was answered. As Figure 2 below shows, there were wide variations county by county. In short, place matters.
In Clayton County, which has the highest poverty rate in the region, almost one in three residents responded that they or someone in their household had to skip a meal or reduce portions due to a lack of money. In neighboring Fayette County, however, only one in ten reported having some level of food insecurity as measured by this question. Clayton has the highest poverty rate in the region, Fayette has the lowest. This is not a coincidence. (See Figure 3)
So, obviously, poverty plays a role in food insecurity, and education plays a role in poverty. And we can look at the answers to this question by educational attainment. What do you think that would show?
Since poverty plays such a large role in food insecurity, obviously the responses to this question differ greatly by level of education. Still, it is startling to see than those without a high school diploma were seven times more likely to answer yes to this question than those with graduate or professional degree.
So the education/income link to food insecurity is pretty obvious. But what about by gender?
Gender matters too. Women were more likely than men to have to skip meals or reduce portions, and given that women are more likely to be the primary care-givers for children, well this speaks to another disconcerting finding from this question – that households with children were more likely to have to skip meals or reduce portions than those without children.
Like most issues we track on this blog and in the Metro Atlanta Speaks survey, different segments of our regional community have different outcomes, and these differences are defined mostly based on socioeconomics. The most vulnerable among us are most vulnerable in many ways, including access to food.
Please explore this issue, and many, many others, in greater depth from our easy-to-use dashboard. And stay tuned for more deep dives into our 2016 Metro Atlanta Speaks survey in the coming weeks and months.