How Many Kids in the United States Live With Hunger?

1 in 6 kids in the United States are living with hunger. That's nearly 12 million children.

Some of these children are missing meals; others are faced with hunger-related hardship as parents and caretakers make tradeoffs between buying enough groceries or paying bills.

But there is good news. The pandemic showed us that when it comes to feeding kids in America, we have programs that work.

The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Before the pandemic, the number of children struggling with hunger had been steadily decreasing for a decade. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2019, 10.7 million children lived in a family considered “food insecure,” a record low.

A little boy with a sad look on his face stands in his kitchen

Then the pandemic hit. Almost overnight, millions of families were suddenly facing unemployment, hospital bills, evictions and hardship. 

No Kid Hungry and other organizations fought for policies to help families, including federal relief packages, a temporary increase to SNAP benefits and waivers that allowed schools and community organizations to adapt their programs.

Despite the terrible impact of the pandemic, we did not see a major rise in food insecurity in 2020. Because of the programs that No Kid Hungry and many others fought for, American families were able to weather the storm. 

Where Does That Number Come From?

Data about childhood hunger is released annually by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). You can find the most recent USDA data here.

Hunger is not something we can measure; it's something we experience. Instead, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) measures "food insecurity". Households that are food insecure are those that struggled to provide enough food for everyone living there at some point during the year. A child living in a food-insecure household might not get enough food to eat. Or her mother may have to skip meals to feed her. Or the family may have enough to eat one month, but not the next.

In all these cases, that child is living with hunger. 

This blog post has been updated to reflect the latest research.