Child Food Scarcity in Every State

In this Guide...

New U.S. Census Bureau data reveals how many Americans with children in the home are unable to provide adequate food for the household, by state. Learn more about rising child food insecurity in America and find out how many families in your state are struggling.

A child reaches for an apple in a grocery store
Key Findings


  • More than 9 million U.S. adults with children in the home were unable to provide a sufficient amount of food for the household in the past seven days.

  • California accounts for 14% of all child food scarcity in the U.S.

  • 24% of adults with children in Georgia and Oklahoma struggle with persistent food scarcity.

  • High food costs are overwhelmingly the top cause of food scarcity among adults with children in their household.

  • Child food scarcity is more common among children who live in a household with adults age 65 and older, minority families, unemployed adults, uninsured adults, unmarried adults, those with less education and those who receive state benefits for food and groceries. 
Study Overview

As many as one in six kids in the U.S. live in a household that is food insecure, defined as facing a lack of access to sufficient food because of limited resources. That equates to as many as 13 million children in all. 

We used data from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey to analyze child food scarcity in every state and among key demographics. 

For the purpose of this discussion, “child food scarcity” refers to U.S. adults with children living in the home who are unable to provide a sufficient amount of food for the household. 

The cost of groceries spiked 6.4% in the past year. Beef, poultry, fish and eggs are seeing the highest price increases.

Child Food Scarcity by State

An estimated 9.1 million people with children living at home have experienced recent food insufficiency. This is defined as either “sometimes” or “often” not having enough food for the household in the last seven days during the most recent reporting period of September 29 through October 11.

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Graphic table listing the number of adults with children in the household who report recent food scarcity

An estimated 14% of all child food scarcity in the U.S. is found in California, where nearly 1.3 million people with children in their household are affected. 

Texas (821,645), Georgia (722,023), Florida (596,715) and New York (527,873) rounded out the five states with the highest number of residents with children experiencing food scarcity.

Georgia’s total accounted for 24% of all state residents with children, which tied Oklahoma for the highest rate of food scarcity among households with children in the U.S. The national average is 11.8%.

State Percentage of adults with children in home facing food scarcity
National average: 11.8%
Oklahoma 23.9%
Georgia 23.8%
Mississippi 17.3%
Alabama 17.1%
Louisiana 16.2%
Rhode Island 15.3%
South Dakota 14.6%
Colorado 14.4%
Arizona 14.3%
California 14%

Some of the highest rates of food scarcity in households with children are concentrated in a four-state cluster in the Gulf Cost region, with Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama joining Georgia near the top of the list.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, only 0.8% of Vermont residents with children are faced with food scarcity, followed by North Dakota (2.9%) and Montana (3.9%). 

Food scarcity is more concentrated in some urban areas than others:

  • Houston’s 19.5% rate of child food scarcity is nearly twice as high as the Texas state average of 11.4%, and more than twice as high as the rate in Dallas (8.7%).
  • New York City (13.4%), Los Angeles (17.2%) and Seattle (12.3%) each have rates slightly higher than their respective state averages.
  • The rates of child food scarcity in Atlanta (9.3%), Boston (5.8%), Philadelphia (5.6%) and Miami (9.2%) are each lower than their respective state averages.
Top Causes of Food Scarcity

Two out of every three respondents facing food scarcity cited high food costs as the number one reason causing their household food insecurity. Other reasons include the inability to get to a store due to transportation, mobility or health limitations or because of safety concerns. 

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Graphic pie chart illustrating the top causes of food insecurity

The cost of groceries increased 6.4% from Oct. 2020 to Oct. 2021, with beef, poultry, fish and eggs seeing the highest price increases. 

Meanwhile, around 19 million people live in a “food desert,” where at least one-third of the population lives greater than one mile away from a supermarket for urban areas or greater than 10 miles away for rural areas. Food deserts are more commonly located in areas with smaller populations, higher rates of vacant or abandoned homes and higher rates of residents with lower incomes, lower education levels and higher rates of unemployment. 

Demographic Breakdowns of Child Food Scarcity

The rate of child food scarcity varies not only across state lines but also across a range of demographics such as age, race, employment status and more. 


Those age 65 and older with a child in the household are more likely to experience food scarcity than individuals of younger ages with children at home. 


Blacks (19%) and Hispanics (18%) were more than twice as likely to experience child food scarcity than Caucasians (8%), and three times more likely than Asian families (6%). 


Only 3% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree experience child food scarcity. The rate of child food scarcity among those with less than a bachelor’s degree is more than five times greater, at 16%. 

Marital Status

Married couples with children experience food scarcity at a rate of less than 8%, which is far lower than the rates for those who are divorced/separated (18%), widowed (17%) or never married (20%). 

Employment Status

More than 18% of those who were not employed at the time of the survey experienced child food scarcity compared to 8% of those who were employed. 

Food Stamp or SNAP Status

Nearly one-quarter of respondents who were receiving benefits from the Food Stamp Program or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were experiencing child food scarcity compared to 9% of respondents experiencing child food scarcity who were not receiving benefits from either program. 

Of the respondents who had received free groceries in the last seven days, nearly 34% had still experienced child food scarcity compared to 9% of those who had not received free groceries. 

Health Insurance Coverage

Nearly one out of four respondents without health insurance coverage had experienced recent child food scarcity compared to 10% of respondents with health insurance. 


Millions of U.S. adults with children living in the home are unable to provide an adequate amount of food for the household. Cost is overwhelmingly the biggest reason for child food scarcity.

Those who are at a higher risk of living in a home where children face food scarcity include those age 65 and older, Blacks, Hispanics, those with less than a bachelor’s degree, those who are not married, unemployed, lack health insurance and receive food stamps, SNAP benefits or free groceries.


The data used for this report came from the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, specifically Week 39 (September 29 through October 11), the most recent data available.

Updated December 22, 2021

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