Prosperity Watch Issue 29, No. 3: Great Recession Drives Food Insecurity, SNAP Responds

One in 6 North Carolina households faced food insecurity in 2012.  This means that one or more members in those households reduced their food intake or their eating patterns changed during the year because of a lack of money or resources for food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   North Carolina’s level of food insecurity is the 5th highest in the nation, behind only Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.

Food insecurity increased by 2.2 percentage points since the start of the Great Recession.  And the continued high level of North Carolinians who are not able to meet their most basic needs in the recovery remains high because of the labor market.  The loss of jobs and the failure of the recovery to deliver enough jobs to meet the state’s workforce is the primary driver of this challenge. A secondary cause is the growth of low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough for a family to make ends meet.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has responded effectively to the economic downturn by increasing support to families who are impacted by unemployment and poverty.  The program tracks closely the cycles in the economy: increasing support in downturns and decreasing support in recoveries.  North Carolina’s experience over the 2000s shows this increase in downturns and the leveling off of recipients in recoveries.  Given the nature of the low-wage job recovery, North Carolina has not seen the decline that is apparent in other states. 

Projections by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggest that SNAP spending will fall significantly in future years as the economy recoveries and that it has already stabilized. The countercyclical economic impact of SNAP is well-documented.  For North Carolina families, the program provides a modest $1.33 dollars per meal support to put food on the table.  These dollars are spent locally and quickly, supporting grocery stores and retail outlets across the state.

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