Hunger, Poverty, and Health Disparities During COVID-19

There are many connections between food insecurity, poverty, and health, how COVID-19 has exacerbated inequities, and the role of federal nutrition programs in an equitable recovery. Historic and current inequities in the U.S. fuel an unacceptable cycle of poverty, hunger and poor health. This will continue unless a wide range of policies are enacted that prioritize equitable outcomes.

New data from USDA and the Census show that the social safety net, including the federal nutrition programs, helped ameliorate the pandemic’s impact on hunger and poverty in 2020. In addition, new polling data from UnidosUS reveals that Latino parents have benefited from the federal programs. However, rates of hunger and poverty are still unacceptably high, and some disparities have increased.

College Campuses

Food insecurity is common at colleges and universities across the country, potentially undermining the educational success of untold thousands of students. The Hunger on Campus report shows that the college campus hunger problem is extensive and growing.  It surveyed more than 3,000 students at a mix of 34 community and four-year colleges, finding:

  • 48% of respondents reported food insecurity in the previous 30 days-22 % with very low levels of food security that qualify them as hungry.
  • Food insecurity occurs at both two-year and four-year institutions. 25% of community college students qualified as having very low food security.
  • Food insecurity was more prevalent among students of color. 57% of Black or African American students reported food insecurity, compared to 40% of non-Hispanic white students.
  • More than half of all first-generation students (56%) were food insecure, compared to 45 % of students who had at least one parent who attended college.

Hunger has a large impact on learning and college retention. There is the physical problem that hunger and anxiety over when one will eat again makes it hard to concentrate and learn. Additionally, hunger may force students to make decisions that interfere with classes such as working longer hours at their jobs or taking long breaks from their studies to earn the money needed to buy dinner.

Learn More:

From National Student Campaign to End Hunger: Hunger on Campus


Disparities in food insecurity continue to persist by race and region, and one population often goes unseen in conversations about hunger — the LGBTQ community. 2.4 million (29%) LGBTQ adults experienced a time in the last year when they did not have enough money to feed themselves or their family, according to a new Williams Institute study. Data suggest that same-sex couples raising children are approximately twice as likely to receive food stamps as different-sex couples with children.

  • LGBTQ adults are 1.7 times more likely than non-LGBTQ adults to have lacked enough money to feed themselves or their family in the past year.
  • LGBTQ adults aged 18-44 are 1.3 times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to receive food stamps.
  •  Same-sex couples are 1.7 times more likely than different-sex couples to receive food stamps.
  • LGBTQ adults aged 18-44 raising children are 1.8 times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to receive food stamps.
  • Same-sex couples raising biological, adopted, or step children under age 18 are 2.1 times more likely than comparable different-sex couples to receive food stamps.

Learn More: From the Williams’ Institute: LGBTQ People Are Disproportionately Food Insecure


Immigration in the United States has held a longstanding and transformative role in shaping America’s social and economic landscape. Immigrant families have high employment rates, but immigrants are more likely to receive lower pay than native-born workers.  Therefore,  immigrant families are disproportionately likely to experience poverty and other hardships that can place children at risk, and research points to significant gaps in meeting their needs.

People without documentation who live and work in the U.S. are among the most vulnerable people in our country. The National Center for Children in Poverty found:

  • Immigrants are more likely to live in poverty and to struggle to put food on the table. The national poverty rate is 14.8%, while immigrants as a group have a poverty rate of 30%. It is likely that the poverty rate of undocumented households is even higher.
  • Immigrants without documentation have a food-insecurity rate twice that of the overall U.S. population. Although immigrants without documentation pay taxes, they often don’t apply for government nutrition programs, such as those for women, infants, and children (WIC) and low-income families (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), because they fear deportation.
  • Immigrant families headed by farm workers are almost 7 times as likely as other Americans to face food insecurity. This means that at some point during the year, 1 in 2 farm-worker households has at least 1 member going hungry, compared to 1 in 7 households in the general population.
  • Children of immigrants are among the fastest growing population of children in the U.S., and they are the most vulnerable to food insecurity.
  • Immigrant families with children, 19% of whom live below the poverty level, tend to access federal food assistance at significantly lower rates than do native families, because they are less likely to realize they qualify for it or are leery of providing information to the government, even when they are residing in the U.S. legally.

Learn More: From Bread of the World: Hunger and Poverty Among Immigrants