May 24, 2013

U.S. stands out as a rich country where a growing minority say they can’t afford food

During tough economic times many people around the world find it difficult to afford life’s basic necessities.  Nearly half (a median of 49%) of those surveyed by the Pew Research Center in developing economies and a quarter (25%) in emerging markets say that, at some point in the past year, they have been unable to afford food that their families needed.

Such deprivation is closely related to national wealth. For example, in Australia, Canada and Germany – three of the most well-off countries surveyed – roughly one-in-ten say they have struggled in the past year to pay for enough to eat. Meanwhile, in Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Senegal – among the poorest countries surveyed – half or more say food for their family has been hard to come by.

The United States is an outlier from this pattern. Despite being the richest country in the survey, nearly a quarter of Americans (24%) say they had trouble putting food on the table in the past 12 months. This is up from just 16% who reported such deprivation in 2007, the year before the Great Recession began.

Americans’ reported level of deprivation is closer to that experienced by Indonesians or Greeks than it is the British or the Canadians. In fact, the percentage of Americans who say they could not afford the food needed by their families at some point in the last year is three times that in Germany, more than twice that in Italy and Canada.

Topics: Economics and Personal Finances

  1. Photo of Bruce Stokes

    is director of global economic attitudes at Pew Research Center.


  1. Jule Eberle3 years ago

    Malnourishment in the USA. This is the saddest position I have ever seen for the richest country. Why is this? The USA cares about money and lots of it. For example: giving tax breaks to the wealthy, and expecting the middle class, because there is more of the working poor to middle class to make up and support the lack. Right to work laws benefits companies and employers, not the employee who for the most part is on assistance because of the cost to live, good nutritious food is out of their financial reach, the cost effective GMO’s maked for the general population is the affordable lack of nutrition. Take Idaho forn instance, advertises itself as having the lowest cost of labor, so move your business here, lower cost of living, lower cost of construction costs, lower taxes for those in a financial income level. Our Governor, cares more for the money brought in, and has the opinion that if you want to change things here, need medical insurance, and to be able to keep their homes…well they need to move somewhere else, because this State, is the home for the wealthy and will be catered to in all avenues. Politicians here are elected by money spent, and affiliation with specific groups. My home used to be in a very rural area, now the county has changed the zoning for businesses and small malls. Ada county wants all land developed because it means money. More GMO crops are grown in this state and many use arial pesticides. The cost of living has been made more affordable for those with monies, and unbearable for those working a $7.25 hour job that uses the part-time rule to avoid paying benefits, hire more employees and less hours. Wealthy companies, hotels that charge $700 for a $120 room, but hire immigrants at $7.25 to keep the profit margin moving. The prision system here is the same, let them out at term, which includes sex offenders and rarely tracks them. Murderers are given 2nd degree instead of what they deserve because too much monies would be spent, and they live a life most honest people never have the chance to, inmates have access to the internet, and post to FB. How do I know this? An inmate who committed a violent murder of a family member was on my FB, showing daily pictures and making comments to me and looking at my friends list. The State Department of Corrections stated: no one was on line, except for the call-center. City officials have banned the beggers from the wealthy streets and areas, and told them to go to another city, closed shelters because they are an embarrassment, denied the prostitution/escort levels even exists, and denies the fact that the school education produces more uneducated people, but thats a base for that low cost work force. Idaho has the saddest of ways to cares less for its working poor, but it makes every effort to get them to leave. Its so sad that I have seen this destruction and it brings me to tears. I am going to lose my home to this destruction. I have been proud of my home being paid off, but the property taxes are going to rise 2.2% above the current level.

    1. ProtectOurRights3 years ago

      I agree that society as a whole has become self destructive, vindictive and solutions to problem issues have become medieval, intollerant and generally unintelligent. Our society cannot grasp the simple statistics of population growth, mass media and how intrusively news trivia is reported now compared to how limited news coverage was a few decades ago. All things considered statistically speaking many things arent as bad as they may seem due to the boom in coverage and transparency. Too many power struggles with social groups. Pointless drama. Hypocritical judgements of people in their personal lives from citizen to citizen is horrendous and a clear violation of individual legal rights and liberties. America isnt free any more in spite of the Constitution and Civil Rights. We are paying the price for how incompetent and neglected public K-12 education was in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s in most parts of the country with few exceptions. Ironically, society is not okay with a death penalty for heinous crimes but is okay with laws that achieve the same end result in a more passive agressive indirect way over a much longer more agonizing time frame. Rehabilitation and forgiveness for legal indiscrepancies is extinct. Bullying and mental abuse have been the hot trends for past few decades becoming a national crisis and sparking up campaigns for intervention. In spite of more superficial posturing, posing and fronting of the self righteous, publicly charitable and political correctness society has the inability to accept responsibility for it and begin the road to healing and happiness. Ego Vs. Ego. My prediction for the future is of a growing exodus from America to simpler less stressful lives elsewhere in the world away from the hate and control mongering. Many people will even say goodbye citizenship. When there is no one else left to single out, discriminate against and judge to death then will follow the final throws of atrocity for strangled robot society that will set all of the world against feaux puritanical rabid America leading to world wars and total self destruction. America the free? Free to shut up and do as you are told or else. This is a the United Dictatoship of America

  2. Andy3 years ago

    I think Lebanon is more of an outlier, being the country with the lowest percentage of its population unable to afford food in the world. How did the Pew Institute conduct this survey, exactly?

  3. Brad Wilson4 years ago

    This is fascinating. But there’s another part or 2 of it. The hungry globally are often farmers or rural, and are hungry because of low farm prices (food poverty, often related to oversuppy, not food shortages). Meanwhile the US is the dominant farm commodity exporter (ie. corn, wheat, and price leader on rice) and is so rich that it can sort of not be noticed as we chose to lose money on exports for 25 of 26 years for a sum of 8 commodity crops (1981-2006, USDA-ERS Commodity Costs and Returns,) and on for another 5 of 6 years for 5 of these crops (but not corn, rice and soybeans). Our export dumping then makes other countries poor, makes the US less rich, and makes US/foreign AgBiz commodity buyers rich. One result was that many farmers went on food stamps (ie. 1980s-2006 farm crisis) Then, in the relevant policy arenas, the US farm bill and food stamps, money is wasted as we give subsidies to farm commodity grower-victims (giving about $1 for each $8 in reductions), which would not be needed with adequate market management programs as we had 1942-1952). As recent studies have shown, we could easily save about $100 billion over the life of the farm bill with the needed changes, and that doesn’t count food stamp cost savings that could come from raising the minimum wage. So we cut food stamps and also cut farm subsidies, and spend a huge amount needlessly by not implementing adequate programs.

    1. Andy3 years ago

      If food stamps are failing, there’s no reason to expect that raising minimum wage would generate the savings necessary to cut them.

  4. Will4 years ago

    This makes me want to give a class on living on a budget. I work as a mortgage collector and we go over people’s income and expenses. The sad truth of the situation is a lot of people might need to move. If you had an accident and can’t work. You’re on disability and making a third of what you were making. I’m sorry man. You might not be able to keep your home. We are doing amazing things. Modification can really save the day sometimes. I have seen mortgage payments cut in half sometimes (usually because they were getting a really bad deal before) but we can’t save them all. And realizing that early saves a lot of money and heart ache.

    1. nikki4 years ago

      When the children grow up, what money have they put aside?

  5. Khannea Suntzu4 years ago

    Failed state.

  6. George Ballog4 years ago

    The conclusions of this study are not supported by the methodology or the interpretation of the self-reporting. For example, it is not credible that a Ugandan would measure “not having enough of the right food” the same way an American would. It borders on the absurd.

    Plotting such polling responses against GDP numbers and presenting the conclusion as you have done suggests either an agenda or profound incompetence in profession. Putting absurdities into a chart doesn’t change them into truths.

    How do you characterize the woman I saw in the supermarket line ahead of me and my wife buying a $42 specialty birthday cake with food stamps. She no doubt has difficulty “putting the right food” on her table.

    1. ana4 years ago

      Yes, your anecdotal evidence is so strong that it certainly trumps the statistics given here.
      If you had actually read the Pew report (this guy did not just pull these numbers from a hat) you will have your initial concerns addressed. Much like the US Census Bureau (which asks pretty much the same question in pretty much the same wording on surveys, or at least they used to when they still did surveys and didn’t contract them all out) they just asked if there had been a time in the past year where there was not enough money for food. Not food that you like, but food period.
      Yes, many Americans (and people in general) need help with financial literacy. No, that is no excuse for demonizing anyone. My uncle once lived on ramen noodles for a month so that he could afford to have a decent dinner for his date with his remaining food stamps. He still talks about how much fun it was, and it was years ago. Who are you to say that the woman had not done the same?

    2. max8434 years ago

      How could you possible know the woman was using food stamps for a birthday cake? It would look like a debit card.

    3. Steve4 years ago

      Personally, I dumpster dive the vast majority of my food. So I have a lot of extra money on my food stamp card. So I often use it to splurge a little bit. I agree that the cake is kind of silly, but you really do not know how that woman is getting most of her food.

      1. kadiatou tubman4 years ago

        Please tell you aren’t white? Because dumpster while white is is not stigmatized in the same way as dumpster diving while POC.

    4. Jule Eberle3 years ago

      Maybe it was for a child she loves. Dont make a judgement until you have been in their shoes. You and your wife are making money and therefore are not on assistance. My X found a way to not pay child support for his three boys, and the laws in many ways protected them. When he died he owed $175,000 in CS. So, when a birthday came I did everything I could to make it special and to make them feel that they were worth it. So dont judge. You have no right too.

  7. LJ4 years ago

    The answers you get to these questions will tell you little, unless you know what else these people spend their money on. You may be hungry because you have spent money on wants, alcohol/gambling/cigarettes/take away food/consumer items such as flat screen TVs etc, and not prioritised your needs against wants. So, as I say the questions as it applies, at least, to first world countries doesn’t tell you anything. One would need to get the whole family budget to ascertain whether they were hungry because they really couldn’t afford food. I suspect there will be some instances where it is a genuine deduction. In the country I live in, a first world country, 50% of beneficiaries get by and 50% have to call on some emergency help from the Government at least once a year. One has to ask how come half get by and half don’t. I suspect that it is the priority they give to what they purchase. It will be nice one day to see a comprehensive survey so we actually know the true situation. When this occurs we will know what are the effective interventions.

  8. Collin4 years ago

    I literally just heard a woman at the bus stop yelling at her boyfriend on the phone about not paying the phone bill so she could eat for the week. I know most of my friends would have the same trouble cause we all complain about never having any money, but they live at home. Now that I’m thinking and talking about it, I’ve actually had trouble eating anything better than dollar boxes of pasta and dollar cans of red sauce more than a few times over the past month. And I’m considered gainfully employed for this area!

    Holy shtuff, man … what the heck is the deal with that?

  9. Frank4 years ago

    When we have been under a plutocracy since that actor fellow became president and introduced the country to that system called ‘Reaganomics’ it’s not surprising at all. The continued increase in income inequality, aided by the Federal Reserve policies under Chairman Ben Bernanke, will only make things worse down the road. Food, water and clean air will be just as valuable as gold and oil by the next decade.

  10. Jan4 years ago

    USA ”the richest country”???? A joke!
    I think the author forgot something 😉

    1. Jule Eberle3 years ago

      Third richest country and the most miserable to its people because money comes first.

  11. Robin Van Ausdall4 years ago

    Take a look at the Farm Bill and then you’ll know why people buy unhealthy food with SNAP. Nutrition Assistance (used to be food stamps) is less than $4/day. The cheapest calories are the ones most heavily subsidized. That would be corn and soy. In other words, the ingredients in heavily processed, unhealthy food. The working poor are not the problem. A broken system of campaign finance which rewards members of Congress for making laws in favor of the lobbyists with the deepest pockets…that’s the problem.

    1. Albert Vierling4 years ago

      Which brings us back to the article. Average people are under represented.

    2. Jule Eberle3 years ago

      I am even criticized for growing my own food in Idaho and considers it income..LMAO!

  12. Stephanie L. Pyke4 years ago

    The food in this country is backwards. Less processed, healthier foods are far more expensive than the ultra processed crap that they foist for cheap upon the malnourished masses. If you see a fat person in the US chances are less that the person overeats more than that person is malnourished. When a 2 liter of pop costs less than a 2 liter of milk there is a problem. When broccoli costs more per pound than meat, there is a problem. When the staple of western cuisine, bread, and we’re not even talking artisan bread, but healthy, whole wheat bread, when that is $3 a loaf, there is a huge problem. When you realize that the developing cultures have a better nutrition profile in their food than we do, and for much cheaper, you begin to see. It’s not simply about how much Americans make, it’s about what they put into the grocery stores to make available to the public. The vast majority of us do not live close to the land. We are monetized and we are city oriented. We have a rich economy because everything imaginable boils down to the almighty dollar, from the food you eat, to where you live, how you spend your spare time and even whether or not you get the first rate health care that we supposedly have. Our household has struggled to put food on the table and we’re at 200% poverty. That means something is wrong with how they calculate poverty.

  13. Mikki Mack4 years ago

    I’d have to see the incomes of these people and their budget/spending habits in order to decide. I know of ‘many’ people who spend money on things they ‘want’ and not what they need and then say they don’t have money for food, gas, etc., It is a matter of priorities. I do believe for low income people, we need to help supplement their ability to purchase food, however, food stamps should NOT be used for soft drinks, and junk food, like snacks, that have no nutritional value. Those people who need help with having enough food to eat should not be eating cupcakes, cheese crunchies, potato chips, Coke, Pepsi, fruity drinks, etc.

    1. Andy3 years ago

      Much of the working-class live in food deserts where healthy produce cannot be purchased at any store within a mile or more from where they live. I live in a small city, and still I personally live 3 miles away from the nearest grocery store. If I didn’t own a vehicle, taking a bus to go grocery shopping at that store would take at least two or three hours, and I could still only purchase as much as I could carry. Walking down the street to the Walgreens, on the other hand…

      Anyone who is eligible for food stamps is not likely to be able to feasibly use them to buy anything else.

  14. pat4 years ago

    My husband and I are two of those people that can’t afford to eat. We live only on his SSD income $1300. Have cut down our expenses by now living in a 22′ Trailer, plus all we get amonth in foodstamps is $57. Amonth. We cant afford gas either. I have no MEDICARE or help with medical. I want u to know one thing my husband helped end tbe vietnam war. Everyone should thank him. Yet because it was blackopps he gets no vets benifits for it. Thanks america. But really u all should be thanking us a little more.

    1. Jem4 years ago

      Truth! Thanks to your husband for his service and I am sorry things are so rough for you. I support two children on SSDI and I know first hand that it is tough.

    2. ray4 years ago

      you can’t afford food but you can the internet?

      1. Chuck4 years ago

        Ray, there are numerous ways to access the internet for free including most public libraries. You seem quite quick to jump to conclusions w/out any basis for them.

        1. ray4 years ago

          So you are saying that she was at the library? Or are you jumping to a conclusion Chuck? Just went through the va for my dad and they never asked if he was in black ops just if it was war time and in country 1 day . Probably more to her story than she is telling.

          1. Andy3 years ago

            Maybe she’s at the library. She could also be at any number of coffee houses or business that offer free wi-fi. He’s jumping to conclusions because there are many more possible than just yours.

      2. Stephanie L. Pyke4 years ago

        I can go to a job interview without having eaten, but I can’t get to the interview stage without going online and putting in a resume.

  15. Gail Johnson4 years ago

    This is not so surprising. The United States is the only major industrialized nation that is not really a democracy.

    As defined in the Constitution, only the House of Representatives is supposed to be representative democracy. To insure that this was a true voice of the people, the founding fathers mandated a census every 10 years so that the House would grow and change with the population. This part of the Constitution has been ignored for over 100 years. 435 representatives cannot speak 310,000,000 people.

    In Canadian, German and Australian equivalent of our congressional range in size from 100 to 150 thousand people. In the United States, a congressional district averages over 700 thousand. For this reason our government pays very little attention to the needs of ordinary citizens. They have become irrelevant to the process.

    In marketing parlance, the super sized districts create an extremely high barrier to entry thereby discouraging competition at the ballot box. So while congress has record low approval ratings, we have just reelected 81 percent of the House.

    By comparison, in the 1800s, 1st term members always made up between 35 and 65 percent of the House – real ordinary Americans going head to head with the more patrician Senate, President and Supreme Court.

    1. nikki4 years ago

      very interesting